Broadway Danny Rose (Blu-ray)
(Twilight Time, 4.8.2014)
1984’s Broadway Danny Rose is an intriguing anomaly in Woody Allen’s impressive mid-career Mia Farrow period. Working for the seventh time with master cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather, All the President’s Men) -- they collaborated for the final time on the following year’s The Purple Rose of Cairo -- Allen delivers one of his most visually stunning films, an artfully composed black-and-white comedy filled with inventively blocked and otherwise challenging long takes. But whereas Allen’s earlier black-and-white films (Manhattan, Stardust Memories) explored lofty themes, Broadway Danny Rose is unapologetically slight, a more expertly crafted variation on the director’s early comedies and a preview of the more lightweight sensibility that became prevalent in his work after he parted ways with Farrow.
One of the film’s most striking qualities is its approach to characterization. Rather than explore the kinds of New York intellectuals that were the focus of his earlier films, Allen veers into the shadier territory of nightclubs and organized crime. (A decade later, he brought these two worlds together in Bullets Over Broadway.) Mia Farrow gives one of her most uncharacteristic performances as Tina, a tough, moody woman who was once romantically linked to a gangster and now finds herself in an affair with Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a married lounge singer represented by Danny Rose (Woody Allen). Danny is charged with keeping an eye on Tina, a responsibility that results in a series of misunderstandings, forcing them to flee from gangsters -- to memorable comic effect. (Highlights include the “wriggle” scene and a shootout involving helium.)
While Farrow seems to occasionally step out of character (her more fragile disposition leaks through in a few scenes), she is rendered almost unrecognizable by her hair, glasses, and tough gal attitude. The glasses are especially important. They function as a striking aesthetic tool and give Tina a stylized, theatrical quality that is rare for Allen’s characters of this period. A case could also be made that Danny Rose is the most Allen ever stretched as a performer, expressing himself through phrases we could never imagine the actor uttering in real life. (Example: “May I interject one notion at this juncture?”) The cumulative effect isn’t especially substantial, but it remains a fascinating curiosity in the writer-director’s body of work, an intriguing hybrid of traits usually found in opposing brands of Woody Allen film.
As always with Twilight Time, this Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies, available exclusively through Screen Archives and the TCM store. The transfer on this disc isn’t perfect, but it’s a marked improvement over the 2001 DVD. Extras include the theatrical trailer, an isolated score, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo, who explains that Sylvester Stallone (a veteran of Allen’s Bananas) very nearly played Lou Canova in the film. While this might have improved the film’s box office performance, it’s unlikely that he could have matched Forte, a talented singer who proved to be just right for the role.
Unless you’re a stand-up comedian or some other brand of novelty nightclub performer, Broadway Danny Rose is unlikely to stand out as one of Allen’s best. In any case, this is essential viewing, a film of extremes that makes even its most unusual conceits feel curiously effortless. -- Jonathan Doyle