Blu-ray Review: Broadway Danny Rose - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Woody Allen had reached an incandescent peak by the mid-1980s, writing and directing a streak of four magical films that began with Zelig (1983) and continued with Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and (best of all) Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Up until recently, we only had one of those titles in high definition: MGM’s January 2013 release of Hannah. Now, thanks to Twilight Time’s limited Blu-ray release (only 3,000 total copies available), we also have Broadway Danny Rose. With beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Gordon Willis, a terrific framing device featuring numerous old school comics (most of whom have since passed on) playing themselves, and a trio of superb lead performances, this film is a treasure to be savored.

Broadway Danny Rose cover (214x280).jpgA group of veteran entertainers sit around the Carnegie Deli swapping stories about a legendary schlemiel named Danny Rose (Allen), a talent agent known for representing the most desperate of novelty acts. Balloon animal folders, blind xylophonists, stuttering ventriloquists—Danny will hustle them all, booking them wherever he can. Sandy Baron, however, has the ultimate Danny Rose story and the film’s entire running time is devoted to his sharing of it. Washed-up lounge singer Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a one-hit wonder whose shelf-life expired decades ago, becomes a fluke in Danny’s stable of clients: a bankable act. Nostalgia cruises and the like have made Lou an in-demand performer.

Though basically a loveable teddy bear, Lou’s less savory side rears its head in the form of extramarital affairs. The latest apple of his eye is Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow), a gangster’s moll who is far from monogamous herself. At Lou’s insistence, Danny accompanies Tina to a social event populated by mobsters. He’s playing the “beard” for Lou, who wants to confirm that Tina’s feelings for him are unclouded by on-going ties to her gangster ex-boyfriend, Johnny Rispoli (Edwin Bordo). Of course, the bad poetry-writing Johnny doesn’t take too kindly to Danny’s presence and attempts suicide. In an instant, Danny has become a target of the Rispolis, with brothers Vito (Paul Greco) and Joe (Frank Renzulli) vowing to track him down and murder him.

Broadway Danny Rose Woody Allen (380x273).jpgWhy would Danny even go to such lengths for a client, even his ostensible “star?” Because he’s fiercely loyal to every one of them, it’s as simple as that. “Acceptance, forgiveness, love,” is his uncle’s simple life philosophy, one by which Danny tries to live. He’s a genuinely compassionate guy, deeply empathetic to his clients and their largely failed dreams (and yes, some of them are in fact talented—Gloria Parker’s water glass musicianship is truly impressive). Tina expresses a more direct outlook as thepair get to know each other while trying to outrun the Rispolis. “You see what you want, go for it. Don't pay any attention to anybody else,” she says, “And do it to the other guy first, cause if you don't he'll do it to you.'' She tells Danny he must be doing something wrong because all his most viable performers end up leaving him. All he’s guilty of, however, is not being a ruthless, cutthroat bastard. Prior to meeting Danny, Tina began the process of convincing Lou to jump ship and sign with a more successful agent.

Bittersweet while managing to be laugh-out-loud funny, including a rarity in Allen films—a shootout (occurring in, of all places, the storage warehouse for the giant Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons), Broadway Danny Rose includes some of Allen’s most sharply-conceived characters. Farrow is almost unrecognizable in her against-type role as the abrasive, tough-talking Tina. Her face masked by oversized sunglasses, Farrow manages to uncover a glimmer of humanity in this ice queen. Ultimately Tina tests Danny’s convictions, forcing him to really consider whether he believes in his uncle’s maxim. Allen himself has never been more likable, tweaking his classic onscreen persona to bring a heartbreaking emotional honesty to Danny. And as the barrel-chested smarm king Lou Canova, Nick Apollo Forte inhabits the role so fully he barely seems to be acting. A real singer offscreen, its Forte’s enthusiastic vocals we hear whenever Lou is onstage.

Broadway Danny Rose Mia Farrow (380x274).jpgTwilight Time’s Blu-ray offers a better image, by far, than we’ve ever seen for Broadway. Inherent film grain is relatively thick, but gorgeous to look at. Contrast is generally consistent, as is overall sharpness. The only minor issue is the recurrence of white specs popping up on screen, mostly noticeable during dark scenes (or the opening and closing credits). A quick comparison to the old DVD, however, provides compelling evidence that the Blu-ray is indeed a considerable improvement. Also greatly enhanced is the audio, presented here in DTS-HD MA mono. As with most Allen films, the sound design isn’t terribly complex. But the greater clarity and presence offered by the lossless audio is truly noteworthy.

The only special feature here is an isolated music-and-effects track, a hallmark of Twilight Time’s releases. The booklet includes an appreciative essay by film historian Julie Kirgo. With Broadway Danny Rose receiving such as strictly limited release, Woody Allen fans would do well to visit Screen Archives for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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