Woody Allen has always been one of the most constantly frustrating directors of all time, sometimes his films are sublime and when they aren’t they end up being the worst kind of navel gazing. However Broadway Danny Rose marks one of his strongest runs with The Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters coming in its wake. The film before Zelig has its fans but I’ve always found it to be an amusing gimmick that is stretched into a bland feature-length film.
Broadway Danny Rose is a love letter to his early days as comic during the ’60s, it’s may have a contemporary setting but it’s old-fashioned. Woody in one of his finest performances playing a hapless talent manager Danny Rose who is managing teen idol Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) who was famous for 5 minutes in the ’50s. He asks Danny to get his lover Tina (Mia Farrow) and bring her to his concert because he can’t perform without her. Danny and Tina end up on a absurd run from the mob brothers of Tina’s ex who are trying to hunt down the person who broke the mobster’s heart.
Mia Farrow of course went out with Woody Allen and it all ended famously when he fell in love with her adopted daughter. Farrow gives her best performance of their many collaborations here, she plays totally against type here as a tough Italian “broad”. She wears sunglasses throughout partly because Woody didn’t think she could pull it off without them but it’s adds to the mysterious nature of her character. It’s all a visual device to depict her persona as a much performance as any of the acts Danny represents.
The whole film is bookended by real comedians telling stories about the fictional Danny Rose and the story that unfolds is one comedian saying he has the “best Danny Rose story”. It also employs somewhat a road trip story in the last half of the film which is a device Allen would go back to numerous times since, Deconstructing Harry being one of the best later examples. This might go back to his love of Preston Sturges’ masterpiece Sullivan’s Travels which also perfectly mismatches two opposites who eventually grow together on the journey.
Allen also captures the world of the Italian American gangsters surprisingly well which is a world he of course doesn’t come from, maybe he called up Scorsese for advice? He did offer the role of Lou Canova to Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone who both turned it down. Woody Allen has tried to get De Niro for years and has always been turned down because supposedly De Niro is always too busy. De Niro after all is doing great work like Dirty Grandpa.
Broadway Danny Rose may be one of Allen’s sweeter films but it’s one of his most moving and truthful films. It’s remains one of his funniest films and still holds up on repeated viewings which can’t be said for all of his films. The helium shootout is one of the best comedy scenes Allen has ever conceived of. Cult film fans should look out for a beautiful cinema marquee of the underrated Halloween III: Season of the Witch in one scene.