Broadway Danny Rose

Broadway Danny Rose

Debi Lee Mandel

In Broadway Danny Rose, Woody Allen turns his lens on his "family," the borscht-belt comics he came up with in the 1950s and 60s. He twills the heirs of vaudeville entertainmentˇanimal acts, magicians, ventriloquists, aging songsters and third-rate comediansˇtogether into a tender-hearted homage to the veterans of the Catskills circuit on the downside of their heyday.

Allen, ever the reluctant exhibitionist, displays a rare humility in the humanity he gives to the title character, a two-bit talent agent with a heart of gold, down on his luck. Not that he was ever a success: every act he has ever handled that had a chance to make it, left him in the wings. A failed comic in his own right, he knows what his clients suffer and carries them long after their shtick is pass╚. Danny is pass╚, too, but still gives his allˇgai gezundt, as my Nana would say.

"Remember Danny Rose? He was handling an actor and a one-legged tap dancer. It was his normal handling. Always the best." ˝ Comic in restaurant (Sandy Baron)

Allen builds this little cinema ř clef with his usual stylistic innovation. The film opens in a neighborhood delicatessen where, it seems, old comics go to die. A swarm of real show-biz veterans, beginning with Corbett Monica and Morty Gundy, populate a table for an evening, comparing jokes and swapping stories. Someone throws out the name Danny Rose, and Sandy Baron claims to have "the best Danny Rose story," and thus begins our tale through the flashback memories of these washed-out entertainers.

Danny manages to book his best client, the waning (and widening) cantante, Lou Canova (Forte), at the Waldorf, just as the nostalgia craze takes off. Danny runs into Milton Berle, who happens to need a singer to open for him at Caesar's Palace, so Danny convinces him to check out Lou's act. The singer insists that his mistress be present for the performance, so Danny, against his better judgement, drives to Jersey to get her. What ensues is a wild adventure for the meek little manager at the hands of one Tina Vitale (Farrow), a Mafia widow who does nothing without first consulting her neighborhood psychic.

Finally, Farrow gains my attention. Disguised in a large blonde bouffant, oversized shades and tight-fitting bimbowear, she loses herself (and her Woody-ness) in an outrageous caricature of Jersey femininity. But this vehicle is all Woody, and in the most charming ways. He is still a neurotic nebbish, but Danny Rose is a mensch: a decent, ultimately loveable guy with an intrinsic need to do good by others, even at his own expense. In this case, he literally risks life and limb, which provides for some sillyˇteetering on slapstickˇmoments that are highly entertaining. He and Farrow, bound together, shimmying out of their ropes, is a scene that recalls some of his earlier, more absurdist comedies; too bad Farrow's sense of physical comedy isn't up to the task. Makes one wish Diane Keaton never met Warren Beatty - sigh.

Nick Apollo Forte embodies Canova, the crooning Lothario with a disproportionate ego ("When I'm out there singing, I can feel the women mentally undressing me."), and actually wrote the songs he performs. The film's raconteurs, Sandy Baron (Seinfeld 's irregular curmudgeon, Jack Klompus) and pals irrevocably set the era and tone, underlining, again, Allen's impeccable talent for casting. And look for a young Michael Badalucco (The Practice's Jimmy) at the lawn party.

Nominated for best director and screenplay, Broadway Danny Rose is a universal salute to those circuit schleps who carried the baton to the next generation of stand-up comedians and warm-up acts, and the plaid-clad agents who coddled them.

"I want to say one thing, and I don't mean to be didactic or facetious in any manner, but - ."

Broadway Danny Rose is a charming little film that might just win over those who trace a misbegotten line between The Front and Annie Hall, and never look back. Allen, as the Eternal Optimist, is a pleasure to behold: grab this DVD and discover how frozen turkey can bring naches to your life.

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