Broadway Danny Rose

By Jamie Gillies

Woody Allen started his career as a great standup comic in the late fifties and sixties. Riding the last wave of the Borscht Belt-Catskills comedy circuit, his routines rose above the schlock pedalled by Henny Youngman (Take my wife, please!) and Milton Berle. Allen’s famous moose skit is one of the funniest pieces of comic material ever laid down and undoubtedly his jokes and perfectly timed one-liners have influenced comedians from Richard Pryor to Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock.

In one of his best films, Woody Allen celebrates those nightclub and comedy years with the wonderful black and white Broadway Danny Rose. He plays his most likeable character in Danny Rose, the ultimate loser of personal showbiz management. Taking on everybody from standup comedians, as Danny himself once was, to balloon-tying "artistes," ventriloquists, blind xylophone players and has-been crooners, the only thing that he seems to have going for him is loyalty and a strong belief in the life lessons taught to him by a series of deceased relatives.

This is the tale of Danny Rose’s closest brush with big-time success and is narrated by real life comedian Sandy Baron (who later played Jack Klompus, the annoying neighbour of Jerry's parents on Seinfeld) to his fellow comic pals at a table near the back of New York's famous Carnegie Deli. The film is a bittersweet but humorous look at a loveable character.

Danny has been struggling for years since the comedy circuit has dried up; working as a personal manager, his clients are increasingly pitiful and decreasingly likely to ever get well-paying work. Then Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) comes along. A washed-up lounge crooner from the fifties who has both womanizing and drinking problems, Canova nonetheless still has a great voice and a stage presence that is a cross between Tony Bennett and Rocky Balboa. Danny starts booking him at decent places as the "nostalgia" craze takes off in the late 1970s and guys like Lou become popular once again. Finally, it seems that Danny and Lou are getting their big break when Milton Berle agrees to see Lou perform at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

But on the day of the performance, things go terribly wrong for Danny, as you might expect. Although there are plenty of humorous moments along the way, the poignancy of the film’s conclusion – not at all a traditional Hollywood happy ending – includes some of the best moments of American filmmaking in the 1980s. Allen has everything working for him in this low-key but wonderful film, although it takes an at least somewhat uplifting final scene to save the film from ending as sadly as The Bicycle Thief. Broadway Danny Rose is a great film from an American master.

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