A group of comedians in New York are discussing the business, swapping war stories and reflecting that things are not as good as they used to be, when talk gets around to Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a small time showbiz agent who would be unknown to anyone outside of their circle, but is something of a legend within it. Not because he was provided world-beating representation, but because of the decidedly low rent nature of his acts, which would include the likes of trained penguins, balloon animal sculptors and a woman who played the wine glasses...
Broadway Danny Rose is often overlooked in the run of Woody Allen's classic films of the seventies and eighties, coming as it did amidst his more serious and respected works and regarded as a light entry into his ouevre. But actually, it is quite possibly his sweetest film, and has a genuine emotional heart that rings as true as anything in his dramatic efforts. It starts out as an amusing sketch, and the list of Danny's acts sound pleasingly ridiculous and make it all the more incredible that he could survive off the profits of these eccentrics, especially when you see their performances and how daft they look, and that includes the world's worst ventriloquist.
But Danny's faith in these people is truly endearing, and although Allen is doing his usual fast-talking, neurotic schtick, he channels it into a type of character he had not tackled before, and works wonders with what could easily have blown away in a strong breeze. Danny's problem is that whenever he promotes an act that actually goes on to success, he is always left behind by them, a fact that is initially part of the gags about him, but then becomes unexpectedly sad when we see it happen once more and realise how much it hurts him. Not that this is a tragedy, it's simply that its touching moments catch you unawares.
The main plot revolves around Danny's handling of a one hit wonder lounge singer, Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), who is begining to make a comeback: nothing major, but Milton Berle (as himself) is interested in booking him. The trouble is, Lou has a fragile ego, and is having an affair with Tina Vitale (an almost unrecognisable Mia Farrow), a Mafia wife, or a Mafia widow to be more exact. If Tina isn't there in the audience when Lou is performing, then he feels he will go to pieces, so Danny is despatched to collect her only to stumble in on the couple having a blazing row on the phone which makes Tina's mind up not to attend. So begins an absurd chain of events that sees the agent mistaken for Tina's lover, and the Mob do not like that one bit, sending a gang of brothers after him.
The comedy here may be milder than you may be used to from Allen in this period, but there are some good lines - "They'd tear the tongue out of a beard?!", "Five-year-old kids would boo him" - and funny situations, such as when Danny is shot at and the bullets hit helium tankers which gives everyone squeaky voices. Yet the key scene is when Danny and Tina are in the diner, and they get to talking about guilt; he is of the opinion that guilt is necessary because if you did not feel any you would be capable of terrible things. It sounds like a throwaway quip, but the whole point of the film rests on it as Danny unwittingly betrays one of his clients, and he is betrayed in turn. It's about how feeling shame for how you've hurt people, whether you meant it or not, can improve you should you decide to recognise your faults and learn from them; by doing so you might do those people good as well and lead to forgiveness. The film does not preach, but shows a kindness that is gently moving.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hits Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.