Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
★★ / ★★★★
In midtown Manhattan, as famous comics in suits share a meal in a restaurant, their topic of conversation moves toward Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a personal manager of various acts which range from bird performers to blind xylophone players. One of the men claims he has the funniest story about Danny which occurred many years ago when the manager was close with Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), an Italian singer who finds that his career had peaked in the 1950s but has decided recently to make a comeback. It turns out that his decision to once again step into the spotlight is largely influenced by Danny.
Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Broadway Danny Rose” is a mild comedy, sometimes very funny but sometimes very flat, perhaps more than half its jokes directed more toward people who already have a knowledge of the entertainment business. Fortunately, a lot of the performances are entertaining which serve as a sort-of distraction from the jokes and references that fail tickle my insides.
Allen as the lead character is especially entertaining. Danny being a smooth-talker, I found it interesting that he uses his hands quite often, palms directly toward various persons he addresses, as if adopting a stance, readily able to deflect a verbal attack when they happen to see through his flattery. But his nice words are not always false. I enjoyed trying to recognize which compliments he genuinely means because he knows how to appreciate the little things apart from being a competent, sometimes very good, personal manager.
The plot is driven by Lou’s performance in front of a crowd where Milton Berle, playing himself, is to determine if the singer was entertaining enough for Las Vegas. Danny wishes Lou to remain calm and focused prior to the big night but this seems impossible because Lou has just had a fight with his mistress, Tina (Mia Farrow), and there is a possibility that she will decide not to come to the show for moral support. As a very hands-on manager, Danny goes to visit Tina and the duo get into all sorts of trouble.
The partnership between Tina and Danny has its share of laughs as we learn that the two embody very different mindsets. Tina’s pessimism is reflected through her wearing a pair of sunglasses, which she never takes off, as a beautiful and adventurous day unfolds in front of her. On the other hand, Danny, despite wearing a pair of glasses, personifies positivity, as if the accessory helped to magnify the beauty the world around him. Their differences—in personality and perception of the world—create jokes that work even though the situations they are thrusted into at times come across predictable.
Despite the film being shot in black and white, I found that the world the characters inhabit seems to be full of vibrant energy, especially when there are extras on the background. It almost feels like we can go up to them and they will have their own stories to share. I noticed the extras as the characters on the foreground lost my attention, either from being too quirky or when the material verges on insularity, too “theater.”
While “Broadway Danny Rose” provides light entertainment, I could not help but feel it could have been about much more. The sadness toward the end hints at a more insightful level of commentary about how it must really like to work in show business.