"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos

1 Post with tag "whatever works"


BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984), written & directed by Woody Allen

Whatever Works is the title of Woody Allen’s new movie that opens on 26 June 2009.  After an extended cinematic stay in England and Spain to make his last four films, the poet laureate of New York angst and romantic tribulations returns to his native Manhattan for his latest comedy starring Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld and creator/actor of Curb Your Enthusiasm). 

Woody Allen’s filmmaking career is astonishingly prolific: in a 40 year period he has made virtually one movie per year and continues writing and directing into his mid-70s.  I have many favourite Woody Allen films; high on my list is Broadway Danny Rose (1984).  This is Woody’s ode to the odd personalities hovering on the fringes of American show-business and it is one his most entertaining and sweetest stories.  

In scenes that bookend the movie, Broadway Danny Rose is a Damon Runyon-esque tale as told by one comedian to a group of veteran comics in Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli.  Woody Allen is Danny Rose, a theatrical manager of misfit entertainers.  Danny nurtures his acts as if they were his children, especially his biggest baby, Italian crooner Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), whose career is tanking.  Danny convinces show-biz icon Milton Berle to check out Lou’s performance at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel as an audition for Berle’s upcoming television special.  This news triggers Lou’s debilitating nerves; he won’t be able to perform unless Danny brings Lou’s mistress, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow), to the show.  Danny knows this is a bad idea because Lou is married with kids, but business is business.  Danny tracks down Tina, the platinum-blond ex-wife of a deceased mobster.  He tries to convince Tina that Lou’s big break will go bust if she isn’t by his side at the show, but she wants nothing more to do with the neurotic crooner since she’s angry with Lou for not leaving his wife.  Tina flees Manhattan with Danny chasing her, plunging him into a wacky adventure involving the mob out to whack the frantic and panicked talent agent.

Woody Allen as Danny Rose is note-perfect; not really a neurotic character, but a platitude-spewing, hyperactive den mother whose faith in his one-legged tap dancer, his ancient balloon-folders and his messed-up crooner is heartfelt.  It’s perhaps Allen’s most endearing role.

Nick Apollo Forte never acted before Rose.  He was a real-life singer who could pull off the American song standards with swagger, while displaying a touching vulnerability that makes the anxious and needy Lou Canova sympathetic and not merely pathetic. 

Mia Farrow’s Tina is brass and sass, but she never allows her character to become a cartoon as Tina’s compassion slowly emerges.  This is a tribute to Farrow’s talents and to Woody’s screenwriting.

The era of the story is slightly nebulous; it’s evocative of the late 1950s or early 1960s, but sometimes you are aware it’s the early 1980s.  This paints the picture with a lovely timelessness which is only enhanced by Gordon Willis’s black and white photography.  In many of Woody’s movies Manhattan is photographed to convey the great city as a character.  In Rose, Manhattan is not only a character, but a multi-textured stage for the eccentric characters to play out this show-biz fable upon.

Broadway Danny Rose is contextually a screwball comedy, but for all its wackiness the movie’s core throbs with fondness and warmth for its cockeyed characters without ever portraying them as just silly.  Woody Allen slowly insinuates a quiet pathos in the comedy reminiscent of one of his cinematic heroes, Charlie Chaplin.  By its conclusion, Broadway Danny Rose is surprisingly touching, and illustrates Woody’s deft facility to take a wonderfully ludicrous idea and naturally imbue it with human characterization - and not cynical caricature. 

[A clip from Broadway Danny Rose]

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, you can rent the DVD of Broadway Danny Rose from the greatest video store in Canada, Videomatica - located at 1855 West 4th Avenue (phone: 604-734- 0411) in fabulous Kitsilano.  Website: www.videomatica.ca