So far at least, this weekly look at Woody’s work has completely dispelled the cliche that all Woody Allen movies are the same. Just going from the forgettable period farce of A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy to the insightful documentary pastiche of Zelig and now to the heartwarming tale of Broadway Danny Rose is evidence enough. Of course, that may change in coming films/weeks, but right now, this is an exciting time in the filmmaker’s career to be following.
Did I really use the word ‘heartwarming’ to describe a Woody Allen movie? Yep, that’s what we have here. You could almost use the word ‘feelgood’ too, if it wasn’t for the slightly downbeat ending. But then Broadway Danny Rose is a Woody Allen movie unlike any other. It’s a funny story, but it’s not a parody and it’s not about New York intellectuals. Far from it – the characters here, and Woody’s title character in particular – are hilariously unintelligent. Not that the film is sneering. If anything it celebrates the shlub.
To borrow a phrase from Danny Rose, the film presents a ‘definite type of situation’. As recounted by a klatch of old comedians at New York’s famous Carnegie Deli, this is the story of a talent scout for the world’s worst acts. One of his acts, an Italian lounge singer named Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), is poised for a great comeback. All Danny Rose has to do is bring Lou’s mistress to an important concert for moral support. Along the way, this firebrand mistress, Tina (Mia Farrow), gets the mob chasing both of them and putting a hit out on Danny.
While the story and the setting and the characters seem so unusual for a Woody Allen movie at this time, what is not unusual is the art of the filmmaker. By this stage in his career there is a clear, confident mastery at work. The slow dolly in to the table of at the deli; the sometimes otherworldly black and white photography (once again by Gordon Willis); the shootout set-piece set in a warehouse of giant Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade floats; and the slightly shaggy dog storytelling device of the film’s structure – these are just some of the film’s many sophisticated elements.
That they should all be working in the service of a characters as lowdown, pitiful and ridiculous as the Danny, Lou and Tina is what makes the film so engaging. The atypical performances by Woody and Mia are especially memorable. For me the film’s only misstep is its final act, which seems a little too drawn out, and the closing scene between Danny and Tina doesn’t have the bittersweet punch I suspect Woody wanted.
But that’s a quibble. Broadway Danny Rose may not carry the intellectual weight of Zelig, nor the romance of Annie Hall nor the grand vision of Manhattan, but it is still one of Woody Allen’s most entertaining minor movies.
Next week: The Purple Rose of Cairo