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Neurotic November: Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Woody Allen is a polarizing figure, a sought-after writer and director with an abiding love for old Hollywood, but with a controversial personal life. This month we watch and review some of his most nostalgic films.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: Our scene opens at New York’s famous Carnegie Deli, where one evening a group of agents are sitting around swapping stories, when one mentions the escapades of Danny Rose, a hapless talent agent that many of them are aware of. At this point, Sandy Baron tells the incredible story of the lengths that Rose would go to in order to aid his client’s careers, particularly Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a one-hit-wonder singer with a drinking problem that had fallen on hard times and was playing hotel lounges. Through the hustling of Danny (Woody Allen), Canova is able to capitalize on the nostalgia boom and start playing better rooms, eventually getting a big break on a Milton Berle TV special, but there is a problem. Canova is in love with his mistress, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow) who was previously dating a gangster. Through a hilarious case of mistaken identity, Rose and Vitale are assumed to be a couple and find themselves on the run from the mob.


SAMANTHA GLASSER: Apollo Forte is very good as the aging teen idol, a performer with a modicum of talent whose fame likely had more to do with his former good looks than his vocal ability. He sings in a spotty speak-sing style utilized by vocalists with weak or untrained instruments. His ego is enormous. He keeps a woman on the side who looks like a younger version of his current wife (Sandy Richman), an appealing woman who seems supportive of his shaky career in spite of its low level of success, long hours and the fact that they have children to support. No matter how much Rose tries to talk him out of philandering, he can’t be reasoned away from his self-sabotage.

RB: Forte handles his role very capably, but he was not a trained actor, and Allen had a lot of problems with him on set. Allen is a director who prefers to shoot everything in 2-4 takes and some of Forte’s scenes (including ones where he was simply walking across the street) would take upwards of 50. Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone were both reportedly offered the role, but turned it down. It was only when casting director Juliet Taylor took it upon herself to go to the record store and pick up some releases that looked “schmaltzy” did she discover a record called Can I Depend On You by Forte.

Mia Farrow is also excellent here. Allen wrote the part for her based on the daughter-in-law of the owners at Rao’s Restaurant (originators of that pasta sauce I like) who had high hair, a brassy voice and a sardonic sense of humor. Allen was surprised when Mia mentioned to him that she’d like to play a character like that, but he was up for the challenge and wrote a decidedly offbeat role for her that she handled very well.


SG: I love Rao's! I found Farrow to be unrecognizable. She achieved her goal of convincingly playing her part.

The characters we are to feel affection for aren’t the ones we spend the most time with. They’re the auxiliary players, the ventriloquist with a stutter, the woman who plays the water glasses, the bird trainer. These minor eccentrics are the people who keep Danny Rose going and who appreciate the work he does for them.


RB: You make a valid point here. Canova does not appreciate Rose the way the other clients do. He drinks too much before big performances and puts Rose in harm’s way simply through his association with Tina. The balloon folders? They know and love what Danny does for them. Canova’s inflated ego prohibits him from any appreciation of the lengths that Danny is willing to go to for him.

“Some guy shot him in the eyes.” “You mean he’s blind?” “Dead.” “Dead, of course, cause the bullets go right through.”

SG: Though the story involves the mob and struggling artists, there are moments of burst-out-laughing hilarity. Woody Allen uses helium during a gunfight, a perfect combination of intense and zany, but ends the scene abruptly, retaining the freshness of the scene. Few filmmakers today could resist the urge to drag the gag into the ground. Another great gag is visual; Rose and Tina get tied up on top of each other face to face on an old wooden table. This is one of the things I love about Woody Allen movies. They are

never just one thing. This movie is a combination nostalgic tribute to a form of showbusiness gone by, a mob thriller, an uproarious comedy, and a heartwarming Thanksgiving film.


RB: In many ways, the film reminds me of Damon Runyon’s stories, which are heartwarming and based on an underworld that is based on caricatures in a sweet, cartoonish way rather than in say, The Sopranos.

SG: Just prior to watching this movie, my family had been talking about great delis and which ones we would love to visit in New York. I relayed the news (circa 2016) that the original Carnegie Deli closed. Getting a sandwich there named for you was an honor bestowed upon performers who “made it.” This concept has popped up in many movies and TV shows, and after this movie was released, the deli named their corned beef and pastrami for Allen, not the cream cheese on a bagel with marinara sauce named for Danny Rose in the film. My family are devotees to Corky and Lenny’s in Cleveland where my in-laws grew up. Like film festivals such as ours, delis seem to be becoming a thing of the past, especially in this fast-paced world of take-out.


RB: Great delis are indeed tough to come by in the 21st century, especially in the Midwest, and we’re fortunate to have a very good one located just next door to our convention space, which I recommend. I’ll admit that we’ve tried a bunch in the area, and pretty much my favorite is the local chain Izzy’s, which can serve up a pretty solid pastrami and latke.

SG: The scene in the rain is beautiful in black and white. The streaks of light catching the raindrops look like scratched in a well-worn film print.


RB: Most shots in this film could be frozen and sold as postcards. Almost every scene is beautiful.


SG: I’ve heard Broadway Danny Rose lauded many times by Frank Santopadre on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, and being a Woody Allen fan I knew I’d get around to it eventually. Perhaps because of this foreknowledge, I was slightly underwhelmed by the movie. Upon reflection I realized just how entertaining and cleverly crafted it is, and that it is peppered with nostalgia, one of the reasons we chose to spotlight Allen’s films this month and one of the reasons I identify with him.

RB: The scenes in the deli reminded me of a few opportunities I had years ago to share meals with old-time radio performers at some of the conventions that I’d attend. Those lunches and dinners were so special to be a fly on the wall as they’d tell stories about people whose voices you heard or seen on screen, but had such difficulty realizing that they were real people. I remember one evening when a performer regaled me late into the night in a hotel bar with stories about him appearing on Broadway with Lillian Gish as a child. Unforgettable memories that I’ll likely never forget. And, yes, I did meet Joe Franklin once.


SG: In addition to the Carnegie, the film captures stretches of New York that no longer exist. Franklin makes a cameo, another figure I learned about from Gottfried and Santopadre. Fortunately, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade still exists, though Sammy Davis Jr. won’t be making an appearance in this year’s celebration.

RB: It’s bittersweet to look at those scenes of New York and how foreign they seem compared to the New York of today and realize that it actually looked that way in my lifetime. I loved this film. I think it deserves all of the praise that it gets and is nearly perfect. Four and a half stars.


SG: It is a layered movie with excellent performances all around and lots of nostalgia to pull at your heartstrings. Four stars.

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