BROADWAY DANNY ROSE A
USA (84 mi) 1984 d: Woody Allen
You know what my philosophy of life is? That it’s important to have some laughs, but you gotta suffer a little too, because otherwise you miss the whole point to life.
It’s very important to be guilty. I’m guilty all the time and I never did anything
My hand to God, she’s gonna be at Carnegie Hall. But I’ll let you have her now at the old price, okay? Which is - which is anything you wanna give me. Anything at all. —Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
The unreserved, unadulterated Woody Allen at his relaxed best, one of his funniest films, a film loaded with Yiddish and one-liners, not to mention plenty of Jewish guilt, a tribute to the Borscht Belt-Catskills comedy circuit, which is told as a feature length long running joke starring Allen as Danny Rose, renowned throughout the land as the personal manager of the worst acts in show business, opening and closing with a group of New York City comics sitting around the Carnegie Deli telling jokes and talking about the old times. When they get around to mentioning Danny Rose, each has their own anecdote, but one (Sandy Baron) says hold on, he’s got the best Danny Rose story there is, which then takes up the rest of the film. Beautifully shot by Gordon Willis in black and white, it would be impossible to understand Danny Rose without comprehending his innate Jewishness, defiantly non-religious, which happened to be the norm in his generation, yet something of a beacon of hope in a moral wasteland. The film also stars Mia Farrow in one of her better roles as Tina Vitale, playing against type, a manipulative, self-centered, tough-talking bombshell whose wiseguy husband was recently killed by the mob when he was shot in the eyes. “He had it comin’,” Farrow deadpans, while Danny nearly faints, remarking “The bullets go right through, don’t they?” Danny has to stop helping his regular acts, the Jascha Heifetz of wine glass entertainers (“Not one lesson, never taken one lesson!”), piano playing birds, the balloon twisters, the blind xylophone player, the one-legged tap dancer, the dressed parrot, or a hypnotist act that goes wrong when his subjects don’t wake up (“I promise you, if your wife never wakes up again, I’ll take you to any restaurant of your choice — do you like Chinese food?”) in order to devote his time exclusively to one act, Nick Apollo Forte (basically playing himself) as Lou Canova, an overweight, egotistical has-been lounge singer, a 50’s crooner, and worse, a serial womanizer with a drinking problem, who is making a comeback when the country takes an interest in the nostalgia craze.
Canova is two-timing his wife with an unseen glamour girl he claims he’s in love with, giving her a white rose every day, and when he’s booked at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, with the possibility of being the opening act for Milton Berle at Caesar’s Palace, he pleads with Danny to “be the beard” and bring his girl as Danny’s date so his wife won’t get suspicious. When Danny drives to Jersey to pick her up before the show, she’s hopping mad, screaming profanities over the phone at Canova that she never wants to see him again, as he was seen in the company of a cheap blond the night before. Danny, of course, is all apologies and anything else he can think of to calm her down, but she’s out the door making a trip to the neighborhood psychic for advice, which leads to crashing a mob wedding party, where one of the wise guys has a crush on Farrow, and when he sees her with Danny, he feels his honor has been disrespected and vows revenge. The rest of the afternoon is spent running away from crazed Italians carrying baseball bats, each one threatening to kill him. Allen and Farrow are marvelous together, as it’s a hilarious romp through the most unsightly places, the swamps of New Jersey (“All these weeds everywhere, I feel like Moses,”), a warehouse filled with Macy’s parade floats and exploding helium balloons that lead to cartoonish Munchkin-sounding threats in the middle of a gunfight, also a dumping ground where Farrow utters “I recognize this place, my ex-husband’s friends used to dump bodies here.” Danny, of course, has lost it, especially when they have to take a boat back across the Hudson, as he fears for his life when his feet aren’t touching the ground. It was during this boat ride in the fog that Farrow recalls urging Canova to get a better manager a few days ago, that Danny Rose, who she’d never met, wasn’t providing what he needed.
Despite surviving the afternoon alive and in one piece, when they arrive at the club, Canova is smashed, as he was a wreck drinking all day waiting to hear from them. Danny, of course, has his home made remedy waiting which he’s provided plenty of times before, because, after all, a personal manager must provide personalized services. Danny also picks out all the clothes, the order of the songs (‘‘What you should do is ‘My Funny Valentine’ after you do Great Crooners from the past who are now deceased...”), even suggesting a few onstage moves as well as offering the advice from a neverending list of deceased relatives, not to mention his longstanding professional motto: “You gotta look in the mirror and say your three S’s. Star. Smile. Strong.” Berle and Howard Cosell show up and Canova is a hit revitalizing songs that should have stayed dead long ago. So in celebration, Canova decides to go with new management, leaving Danny in a white-palmed state of flux, like what more could he do for the guy, and this is the thanks he gets? After a quick uncomfortable moment, followed by a somewhat hilarious uncomfortable moment, there’s a shot of the big floats of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade before Danny gathers all his acts together to come over for a Thanksgiving dinner party to eat frozen turkey TV dinners. To see all the lovable losers in the same shot is a bit ludicrous, especially the bird wearing a dress and a bonnet, as they’re like lost souls, loved and nurtured by the craziest yet most devoted agent in show business. Allen’s affection for this character is the heart of the film, often feeling like a Yom Kippur atonement, where Danny’s fierce loyalty to his acts is supposedly based upon Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, who have produced every single movie Allen has ever directed. When the blind xylophonist blurts out in a straight face that the cranberry dressing is too dry, and what he’s actually eating is the mashed potatoes, well it’s hard not to crack up, as this movie personifies theater of the absurd. By the end, however, Farrow remembers one of Danny’s uncle Sidney’s best lines, “Acceptance. Forgiveness. Love,” and underneath all the crazy antics is one of the sweetest love stories in the Allen repertoire.