Broadway Danny Rose: The Limited Edition Series [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twilight Time
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (21st April 2014).
The Film

“I don't wanna badmouth the kid, but he's a horrible, dishonest, immoral louse. And I say that with all due respect.”

There's an ever important question, a conundrum when it comes to criticism, that for some is easily answered (and for others, as easily unanswerable). That is, is it possible to separate the personal life of an artist from his or her art? It’s an especially pertinent ponderance going into a review of “Broadway Danny Rose”, in light of the recent… unpleasantness… regarding Woody Allen and his one-time muse Mia Farrow and their children. Ultimately, I find myself answering yes, I find it possible. Like many of Allen’s films, “Danny Rose” remains an interesting production on its own merits, no matter what side of the Allen-Farrow debate you land on—if there is a side at all for the public in what was and should always have been a private matter—for a number of reasons that have little to do with the kind of relationship (or lack thereof) the writer/director and his leading lady have today.

But “Broadway Danny Rose” is certainly an interesting capsule, a relic of a time before the co-starring couple’s dirty laundry tumbled into the public eye; before either player burst through to the court of public opinion to face whatever judgement they may find awaits them; before they stopped working together, after some 13 films. It’s fascinating to look at their work here and see such warmth—and characters with such genuine, heartfelt and honest emotion—only to realize much of what’s on screen is the creation of two people who have nothing but disdain for each other now. It is oddly, almost perversely captivating then, for reasons that surely weren't intended at the time, to see Allen and Farrow—or at least their fictitious analogs, the delightfully righteous Danny Rose and the terribly veracious Tina Vitale—fall for the other, in a way, while playing polar opposites, each against their usual type.

Severed from the 30 years of hindsight, “Broadway Danny Rose” can still just be appreciated, first and foremost as the work of a filmmaker in rarified form. It is perhaps best viewed, and most enjoyed, without any baggage. “Rose” is a wonderfully directed picture, gorgeously glassed in black-and-white by one of the finest cinematographers of his era or any other, the great Gordon Willis. The script is cleverly written, featuring a complex and comically confounding web of a plot, with an amusing structure that makes even the simplest adventure into a twisting-turning study in morality and muddled narrative construction, and filled with quirky characters and the typical wit of Woody-penned dialogue. It is superbly acted, by both leads and supporting players. And there’s a delicate balance of tone, which makes the film both positively sidesplitting yet, at times, very poignant, with a raw humanity seeping through the seams in its great and most vulnerable moments, exposing a sense of subtle sorrow and warm heart.

Released amidst an uncommonly fertile period for Allen, sprung up in a garden of filmic delights—a few years after “Manhattan” (1979), the misunderstood “Stardust Memories” (1980) and the zany and experimental “Zelig” (1982), and just before Oscar-winning “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), the near-perfect people-pleasing nostalgia trips “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985) and “Radio Days” (1987), and even the decade capping “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989)—1984’s “Broadway Danny Rose” is a film that’s rarely, maybe never, mentioned in the same breath as his other popular productions of the same period. But it’s every bit as good as some of Allen’s best 80's output. Not that anyone would expect it to be at a quick glance of the plot summary or trailer. It seems to be a silly film on the surface, with moments of slapstick comedy and an outrageous premise revolving around a nebbish Broadway broker on the run from murderous mobsters, all on account of a woman who by all appearances hate his guts. But “Broadway Danny Rose” is much more than what it appears to be. And it contains one of Allen’s most likeable characters in the titular Danny Rose. Underneath the surface, there’s a small-scale and simple character study merely disguised as a broad comedy. It’s to Allen’s—and even Farrow’s—credit that the film works so well, no matter if it's viewed for the surface superficialities or its deeper character-driven qualities.

The film opens with a group of old comedians sitting around a table telling jokes and sharing stories. The conversion turns to one “Broadway” Danny Rose (Woody Allen), an agent whom they all agree is the nicest guy in show business. Too nice, in truth. They quickly relate the backstory for the few of them that might not know it—and really for the audience. Rose was a standup comedian like them (and, in real life, like Allen); most agree again, he wasn't a very good one. His humor was hammy; his jokes were the old Jewish kind. When Danny Rose’s comedy act in the Catskills finally failed him, he started representing other comedians and entertainers. He quickly found himself at the top of the bottom, pulling from a talent pool of the near talentless, rubbing elbows with, and even representing some of the worst acts in the New York scene. Each one of these old guys at the table has an anecdote about Danny Rose and the cadre of curious C-listers he had in his care.

Rose’s clientele—which included a blind xylophone player, a one-legged tap dancer, a one-armed juggler, a couple who made balloon animals, and one of his star acts, an old woman who played crystal glasses like an instrument—and the fact that he supported each and every one with the utmost businesslike seriousness telegraphs all you really need to know about the man, and his innate sweetness. Rose is a legend to the men telling his tale not just for his tact and total lack of temerity, but for the grace with which he faced a simple truth: any actual talent that came his way always moved on as soon as Rose had groomed them for even modest success. And yet, knowing and openly acknowledging that he was often tossed aside, Rose always gave it his all, and treated even his best—which is to say, even his worst, because none of them were very good—like they were his own family.

Eventually, one of the comedians claims he has the greatest Danny Rose story of all, “The one with Lou Canova.” Singer-turned-actor Nick Apollo Forte—in his first, final, and only big screen performance—plays Canova, a washed up lounge singer who was popular for a few minutes in the 1950's. Canova’s a bear of a man, with a big ego and an even more unquenchable thirst for booze and women. Forte gives one of the film’s many fine supporting turns, and singing several songs, including a few he wrote himself, his portrayal manages to imbue Canova with a smarmy charm fit for his cheesy if charismatic stage act.

When a nostalgia craze sweeps the nation and 50's crooners are cool again, Danny’s able to get Canova a spot on Milton Berle’s variety show. Ever thankful, Canova asks Rose for one more favor: to bring his girlfriend to the show, and act as the adulterous couple’s “beard” so Lou’s wife doesn't get suspicious. Farrow plays Canova’s girlfriend, Tina, done up with big, dark sunglasses and an ever bigger blonde hairdo. She's fantastic, rather appropriately playing against her usually sweet, WASPy type by—and pardon the pun—going broad, with an affected Jersey accent and an initial air of self centered importance, which fits her thunderous Italian-American princess character. When Tina learns why Danny has been sent to pick her up, she throws a fit, because the smoke-and-mirrors of the scheme mean Canova’s been “cheating” on her… with his wife. This realization prompts Tina to run back to her mafioso ex-boyfriend, and the wannabe mob boss in turn entirely misunderstands why, and with who, his former flame is upset, and sends some gun-toting gangsters after who else but the delirious Danny Rose. Literally caught in the crossfire, Danny, Tina, Lou Canova and the paths of several others converge in a conflated and maniacally convoluted plot, which offers a few other twists that would be a shame to spoil.

Danny Rose is both an atypical and typical Allen creation. The character, like most of the men played by Allen in his own films, is still a faint sketch of how the filmmaker sees himself. But in a unique way, Rose is an amalgam, replete with the idiosyncratic physical ticks, phrases, and philosophical outlook of his creator, but without the psychoanalytic hyperbole, cynicism, and self-serving seriousness that occasionally overwhelms Allen and his work. There’s a lightness to Danny Rose, a sweetness, a sincere streak that’s rare for Allen, or really any filmmaker that would ever dare to put a character through so much, and allow him to be so beaten down and yet make it out unscathed. Rose takes every card dealt his way with a shrugging acceptance, before spinning it in a positive light like the best agent in the business would. Standout moments in the film—like the speech Danny gives to Tina in his apartment about the purpose of strife in the grand meaning of life—sets aside the silliness of the plot to really delve into deeper stuff, but it’s done in such a delicate way its more effective in a comedy than other attempts at the same topic might be handled in a straight drama. And even in its lightness, the film isn't afraid to touch upon simple scenes of subtle sadness, albeit usually mixed with an off-kilter warmth—like the scene where Danny offers to pay for a friends hospital bill, or the thanksgiving dinner, where he's surrounded by all the misfit acts he manages, who have nowhere else to go and no one else but him. The comedians spinning their yarn revere Rose for his resilience, and its not at all difficult to do the same for the film that bears his name. “Broadway Danny Rose” stands among Woody Allen’s best, as an example of the filmmaker in fine form. It’s been overshadowed by some of his work of the same period, in part because each was ambitious, but it too deserves to be revered, celebrated, and immortalized, just like the character of Danny Rose. But then, what’s the cinematic equivalent of having one’s namesake on a New York deli menu?

Video

“May I interject one statement at this juncture? And I don't mean to be didactic or facetious in any way…”

Among the most important partnerships between a director and cinematographer in movie history, Woody Allen and Gordon Willis alternated between color and black-and-white with almost every other film they made in their decade long collaboration, which started with "Annie Hall" (1977) and ended with "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1986), a that film shot in both modes. Allen credits Willis—who was dubbed "The Prince of Darkness" by friend and fellow DP Conrad Hall, for the sparing use of light and favoring heavy shadows in many of Willis' films—for helping him develop a more defined visual sense and any sense of style he may have. "Broadway Danny Rose" was their last all monochrome together.

Although the film is gorgeously glassed, impeccably framed and evocatively lit, "Broadway Danny Rose” stumbles onto Blu-ray like one of the titular agent’s bumbling but loveable acts. Allen’s filmography has never been handled particularly well, or with any consistency, on home video, and the titles slowly getting a high def upgrade—the small handful that have trickled out anyway—appear to reuse older sources rather than new-to-disc remasters, inheriting whatever issues manifested on previous formats. In the case of “Danny Rose”, MGM has supplied boutique distributor Twilight Time with a master that’s a little rough around the edges, and seems to be at least a couple of years old, and probably older than that. The biggest issue is print damage, specifically sporadic speckling. The damage is never offensively obtrusive, heaviest within the first 10 minutes or so before it lessens although never leaves the frame, but it is noticeable enough to be a nuance in the worst moments. The same could be said, for the most part, about the erratic grain structure. While sometimes filmic, and no doubt inherent to Willis’ original black-and-white cinematography, the grain appears rather thick and chunky in spots, looking a little like noise in several scenes, intermittently giving way to flicker.

Still, the transfer is a modest success overall. Clarity and detail is rather satisfying, and always fine enough to render the intricacies in the checkered textures of Danny’s tacky shirts and patterned jackets and generally makes waste of the murky unresolved image of the old standard definition edition. An inky black level gives Willis’ monochromatic palette an effectively moody, subtly romantic cast to the lovingly lensed city streets of Manhattan and the various boroughs, and a gritty, grungy sense to the scenes shot in New Jersey warehouses. Contrast is excellent. Nefarious digital ticketing—specifically artificial sharpening—doesn’t appear to have been applied, and compression is competent, showing no signs of egregious artifacts. The resultant 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 high definition presentation, framed at 1.85:1 widescreen, is good but never great; troubled but never terrible. This isn't the sort of thorough remaster that many of Allen’s vintage films need, but it’s a solid enough upgrade that I think fans—especially those familiar with the previous presentations on home video—will be pleased.

Audio

“Hey, wait a minute! I know where we are. These are the flatlands. My husband's friends used to dump bodies here.”

“Danny Rose’s” original mono soundtrack, encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono, isn’t quite fit for broadway—but it is by no means a bad mix. There’s a touch of broad atmosphere, more than I expected for single channel, most evident in the clattering plates and low static of inane cafe chatter during the scenes with the standup comics that bookend the film. Dialogue is always clear and precise, even when characters are shrilly squeaking like chipmunks in the famous shootout in a helium factory. The score—comprised of previous pieces and cues arranged on accordion—supervised by Dick Hyman, and the handful of songs performed by Nick Apollo Forte, have excellent fidelity. I also didn't notice any instances of of pops, clicks, or hiss, nor, with one exception, any other serious issues. There is one hiccup I’m unsure about: a very strange scream/squelch at the 1:06:07 mark, as Lou launches into his second song. It’s very loud; jarringly so, and rather oddly it’s much quieter—but still present—on the included isolated score. A quirk, or indeed maybe is really is a scream from someone in the audience perhaps, it nonetheless appears to be part of the original recording. The disc also includes optional English subtitles.

Extras

“It's very important to be guilty. I'm guilty all the time and I never did anything.”

Because Woody Allen—whose many idiosyncrasies kept his films in monaural well past the invention and implementation of surround sound, among other things—is one of those filmmakers who wishes for his work to stand on its own terms, there will never be a release of "Broadway Danny Rose" loaded with commentaries, ever; no disc overflowing with retrospective documentaries, ever; no deleted scenes, ever. And if MGM had released “Danny Rose” on Blu-ray themselves, aside from a trailer, no extras would have been included at all.

But “Danny Rose”, and indeed any other films directed by Woody Allen that may make their way to Blu-ray through Twilight Time, proves an interesting test case in how a distribution agreement with a boutique label may yield unexpected bonuses. Not a copious amount of special features, mind. But at least one feature that otherwise wouldn’t have been included. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release includes the film’s theatrical trailer a bonus trailer for MGM’s anniversary, but, as a spillover from company's earlier work in issuing limited edition film scores on CD, the disc also provides a losslessly encoded isolated score and an attractive booklet, replete with liner notes.

“Broadway Danny Rose’s” isolated score and effects track, encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono, is an even more interesting case than the usual Twilight Time offering in that it includes all the music in the film, including source cues, and faint foley effects. Essentially, it's the entire soundtrack sans dialogue.

The film’s original theatrical trailer (1.85:1, enhanced widescreen; 480p; 1 minute 7 seconds) and a promo bonus trailer for MGM’s 90th anniversary (1080p; 2 minutes 6 seconds) round off the on-disc supplements.

An 8-page booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo has also been included.

Packaging

"Broadway Danny Rose” comes to Blu-ray courtesy boutique home entertainment distributor Twilight Time as part of their Limited Edition Series. Like other Twilight Time titles, the Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 units. The region free disc is packaged in an Infiniti keep case.

Overall

“You know what my philosophy of life is? That it's important to have some laughs, but you gotta suffer a little too, because otherwise you miss the whole point to life.”

“Broadway Danny Rose” is funny and poignant in equal measure. Although disguised as a broad comedy with murderous mobsters and some silly slapstick, it's really a small-scale and simple character study with a lot of heart. The picture's surface-level simplicity is perhaps why it’s not quite as well-remembered as some of Woody Allen’s other 80's output, but looking back, it contains perhaps Allen’s finest bit of acting—and Farrow’s finest, too. Danny Rose is one of the most human characters Allen has ever written and certainly the most sincerely heartfelt he’s ever played. The film which bears the character's name is likewise full of warmth, almost completely free of pessimistic cynicism, and harboring a sweetness not usually found in Allen's work. The limited edition Blu-ray release features imperfect video and audio but is nevertheless the best the film has ever looked and sounded on disc. It also includes at least one more special feature than usually found on an Allen film in the included isolated score. “Broadway Danny Rose” is an easy recommendation for Allen fans and, as the Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 units, I suggest you buy sooner rather than later if you want to add it to your collection.

Available to purchase exclusively only at Screen Archives Entertainment.

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The Film: A Video: B- Audio: B Extras: D+ Overall: B

 


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