Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Woody Allen | 1hr 24min

Only a writer with as brilliant a flair for dialogue as Woody Allen could run a single smart, zippy conversation through his entire film, letting this stream-of-consciousness dialogue dictate its flow from start to finish. It also takes a director with as strong a command over inventive formal structures as him to springboard an entire narrative of episodic flashbacks off the back of this conversation, fluidly passing the role of narrator between each friend hanging out at a deli. As effortless and organic as all this appears, Allen’s ambition in Broadway Danny Rose is significant, and is quite appropriately about as eccentric as the New York talent agent at its centre, whose unconventionally intense dedication to his clients constantly leads him into farcical mishaps.

One episode in particular dominates the majority of Allen’s film, following Danny’s feckless efforts to meet the desires of his most promising client, Lou Canova. The singer’s demand for both his wife and mistress, Tina, to be present at an important upcoming gig quickly becomes Danny’s highest priority, and involves him posing as Tina’s fake partner. Unfortunately for him, her ex-boyfriend remains in her orbit as well, and his mafia connections quickly derail what sounded like a much simpler plan in theory.

Smaller episodes springing up around this main story, as Danny inadvertently draws another of his clients into his troubles with the mafia.

Beyond this chapter of Danny’s career there revolves other stories of him and his clients – a blind xylophone player, a one-legged tap dancer, and a one-armed juggler, though even within the main plotline other vignettes branch off in tangents, keeping to the form of the framing conversation. Neurotic as he is, Danny is an idealist at heart, going to great lengths to give these oddball men and women a stage upon which they can express their art.

Gorgeous greyscale cinematography, bringing a comic bleakness to these episodic stories.
Lighting and framing Tina within a crowd of bodies creating gorgeous black-and-white compositions like these.

Around him, the urban architecture of New York springs up in towering structures and cramped enclosures, defining this restless extrovert by his magnificent urban environment. Shot in gorgeous greyscale reminiscent of Allen’s own Manhattan, there is a dreamy haze that hangs over Broadway Danny Rose. Although many stylistic comparisons may also be drawn here to Antonioni’s characteristic disillusionment, the tone Allen strikes in his upbeat screenplay lets this cinematography take on far more encouraging implications, drawing hope from the bitterness of this cut-throat city.

A comical set piece as Danny and Tina make their getaway, consuming them in these gigantic amusement park structures.
Some of Allen’s greatest uses of mise-en-scéne, using architecture to divide and frame his characters like Antonioni did before him.

After all, Danny is an optimist who sees the best in even his least successful clients. That whole-hearted belief isn’t always enough to lift them into the circles of famed entertainers, but on the occasion it does he frequently finds them leaving for more effective (though probably less passionate) agents. Ineffective as he may be, he does carry a small, humble legacy – not just a sandwich named after him at Broadway’s most famous deli as revealed in the final seconds, but even more importantly, the very conversation which forms the backbone of this film. In this way, Allen turns the very act of storytelling into a form of respect, preserving Danny Rose’s peculiar ventures within the urban mythology of New York City.

A parallel tracking shot of Danny running through New York streets until he finally arrives at the deli where the framing conversation of the film takes place, thus bringing it all full circle.

Broadway Danny Rose is available to rent or buy on iTunes.

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