Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte. Written and directed by Woody Allen.
Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose is low-key bizarre, filled with jokes that aren’t very funny and situations that are more uncomfortable or weird than they are comical, but somehow Allen creates a character in Danny Rose who is pathetic, sweet, miserable, and (this is the most important part) heroic in a mundane, pitiful way. I almost couldn’t wait for it to be over, but when it was over I was awash with sadness for a character I wasn’t sure I even cared for.
In the film’s opening scene, Danny Rose is being remembered by a group of comedians gathered for lunch in Carnegie Deli. It’s unclear whether these men are his friends or just some guys who knew him, but while nobody seems to be heartbroken about his death, there’s certainly no animosity as they share their stories.
They remember Danny the talent agent as a shmoe, a guy who gets taken advantage of, a guy who can’t seem to get a break, a guy who keeps trying when it’s clear to everyone else that he’s doomed to failure. He takes Lou Carnova, an aging lounge lizard, as his new client, and things seem like they’re about to work out for him. There’s a nostalgic wave of retro appreciation for this kind of music, and Carnova gets a chance to perform for Milton Berle, who may be interested in taking him on tour. But Lou’s mistress Tina causes problems when she refuses to show up with Danny for the show. There follows a pursuit by gangsters and a completely unbelievable sort of bonding between Tina and Danny.
Way in the background of this ridiculous story is something else, something I originally described but just deleted because it wouldn’t be fair to give it away. But it is the reason this movie exists, and when Danny does something improbable near the end, it’s completely believable and we want it to happen because of something we most likely didn’t pay much attention to.
It’s an act of storytelling I’ve never seen before: a whole movie explained and redeemed by one scene involving something seemingly unimportant. It leads me to think I missed something earlier in the film, perhaps multiple somethings. It feels almost O. Henry-like in the way it catches you off-guard, only it’s not a Henryesque twist. Rather, it seems to say we’ve been looking so closely for one meaningless thing about Danny Rose that we missed the really important stuff about him, that we watched a movie one way and missed what it actually is.
Or maybe that’s just me. Still, when a movie affects you in a way no movie ever has, something brilliant could be going on. I’m not ready to call this a brilliant movie, but it’s so much better than I expected, and possibly better than I deserved.
PS: I forgot to mention Mia Farrow, who’s pretty fantastic in her performance as Tina. I don’t know much about Farrow the actress, but she surprised me too.