03 September 2008

Like Danny Rose I Don't Mean to Sound Facetious or Didactic

I don't want to bad mouth the kid but he's a horrible, dishonest, immoral louse. And I say that with all due respect. - Danny Rose.

Danny Rose was the Ed Wood of theatrical agents, which is to say, inept but well-meaning and lovable.

The character was the creation of Woody Allen who wrote, directed and played the title role in 1984's Broadway Danny Rose. Simply put:  the movie is one of the great comedies of our time and even succeeds as a love story.

Allen has been so prolific a filmmaker that there's a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees effect to his body of work. Having directed 38 films (and counting) it's not surprising that a few get lost in the shuffle. In my mind Broadway Danny Rose deserves a place in Allen's top ten – if not his top five – best films.

Everything about the film works. From the cinematography to Mia Farrow's transcendent performance to the hokey but catchy songs of Nick Apollo Forte. The set up is brilliant with a group of comics (playing themselves) sitting around in a deli swapping jokes and stories with Sandy Baron eventually telling the ultimate Danny Rose tale. But the main reason the film succeeds is because of the star – Woody Allen. Allen's selection of himself to play the role was truly inspired.

Danny Rose handles one-armed jugglers, and one-legged tap dancers, bird acts, and even a skating penguin dressed as a rabbi. Sadly, those few acts of his that actually succeed inevitably leave him for a "better" agent. But they'll never get the kind of personal attention that Rose can provide. "Friendly but not familiar," admonished his father (God rest his soul) but Danny gives the proverbial 110%. His dedication comes because he has the most endearing and important of qualities: faith.

Against all reason, the director Ed Wood, as portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 1994 film Ed Wood, had faith; faith in himself, his cast and crew and thus his films. That's why we love and root for Wood. Similarly, the faith Rose has in his clients,  and by extension, himself, is why we root for him. Of course both are surrounded by people even odder than himself. But neither Wood nor Rose are judgemental. In their loyalty is true love. There is something piquant about truly devoted people who pursue their goals heedless of the world's myriad cynics and know-it-alls who surround them.

Audiences can abide a little incompetence in a movie's lead if it's swathed in earnestness, persistence and affability. In Rose's case add a fantastic sense of humor (he was, after all, a failed comic) and you can't help but love the guy.

The ultimate Danny Rose story that the comic Sandy Baron tells centers around an aging pop star of the 1950's, Lou Canova, played by Nick Apollo Forte. Canova is represented by Rose who, of course, has faith in this boozing, womanizing has-been. Lo and behold the "nostalgia craze" hits and Canova draws the attention of no less than Milton Berle. Rose must not only look after Canova's every need but be the beard and take his temperamental girlfriend Tina Vitale (Farrow) to the big show. Hilarity ensues.

Broadway Danny Rose is over and done in a mere 84 minutes, closing credits and all.  This is a remarkable tribute to Allen's direction.  The cast of characters alone is dizzying including, as it does, Mafia hitmen, Howard Cosell, a fortune teller, the world's worst ventriloquist and the various and sundry personnel already noted.
Pacing is everything.

I find Broadway Danny Rose funny each time I watch it. It also stays fresh because Allen's title character is so totally guileless, and so utterly endearing, and so wonderfully hopeful.

What a sweet movie.

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