Label: Twilight Time
Released: April 8, 2014
Synopsis: A low-rent talent agent finds himself on the lam from angry brothers in a case of partially mistaken identity.
Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Film Historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available Exclusively at Screen Archives Entertainment.
Oscar-nominated for Best Director and Screenplay, Woody Allen’s virtually perfect film is more than a partial homage to the absurd and ridiculous screwball misadventures of the forties and fifties, as filtered and adapted to Allen’s own sensibilities. Unlike Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? (1972) which similarly has two talky characters chased in and around a city’s environs, Allen’s skill as a writer and comedian ensure pacing reigns, leaving zero fat in the narrative and dialogue that’s evocative rather than a pale mimic of classic screwball lunacy.
In fairness, Bogdanovich’s main cinematic idol in Doc was pretty much Howard Hawks, whereas Allen’s mind sponged the best aspects of several idols before crafting a fairly linear story where scenes don’t stop dead so characters can in and out of rooms with plenty of door-slamming.
Playing like a stripped-down echo of Some Like It Hot (1959) with a hyper-fixation on schlubs, gangsters, and fringe talent, Broadway Danny Rose unfolds in a classic NYC deli as group of veteran and weathered comedians recall in increasingly detailed vignettes the schadenfreude episodes of Rose’s life – moments of personal and professional embarrassment which are nevertheless funny, and symbolic of Rose’s loyalty and determination to stand by his clients because someone has to support the blind xylophonists, bird trainers, creepy ventriloquists, and fading lounge lizards because they’re no less valid than a big name.
Rose’s biggest misadventure, as told by gravel-voiced Sandy Baron (“The Cadillac” episode in Seinfeld), has him mistaken as the boyfriend of his married client – a blunder that sends both Rose (Allen) and sharp-tongued Tina (Mia Farrow) on the run from the ax-wielding brothers of Tina’s obsessed admirer. As the pair flee, hide, are snatched, and escape from their goofball pursuers, the narrative switches to Rose’s client Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a fading fifties singer enjoying a blip resurgence of lounge singers in small clubs and cruise ships, and booked for a pre-show party for Milton Berle.
Lou’s drinking and need to have Tina present at the show is mandatory for an inspired performance, making it vital for Rose to wrap up the danger and get to the show in time and save both face and score a badly needed big booking.
The key to the film’s success could be tied to Rose being not a cartoon character but an ordinary guy whose moments of hurt linger on camera; Rose may be a slight variation on Allen’s screen persona, but the writer / director presents the pain of failure, rejection, and processing that hurt as true, making Rose compelling in spite of his motor-mouth.
Allen certainly channels the wit of Billy Wilder, and maybe a little Warner Bros. cartoon insanity in a short but brilliant moment where a shootout in a parade warehouse swings to the ridiculous when punctured helium canisters have all parties sounding like chipmunks. Allen’s also surrounded himself with a vivid array of faces and figures who add so much character to scenes. The extras and bit actors in the party scene where Tina’s uber-fan fingers Rose as his enemy is a wonderful collage of striking faces, but perhaps the most effective and poignant scene is the finale, where schlub Rose celebrates Thanksgiving with his fringe clients with TV dinners in his very small, very blah apartment. Everyone is pretty much likeable in this tight comedy, and Allen’s Rose remains a decent guy you hope finds a little love, and a woman able to tolerate his motor-mouth.
Twilight Times’ Blu-ray features a lovely transfer of the film with a punchy mono sound mix, and Gordon Willis’ cinematography combined with Allen’s own visual style gives the film a peculiar veneer, marrying the director’s neurotic characters with classic screwball antics, and the look of a high contrast Ingmar Bergman drama. It’s an unlikely fusion, but it works perfectly.
Julie Kirgo’s liner notes provide context for the film within Allen’s still-increasing filmography, and the isolated music & effects track showcases Forte’s songs (which were released on a commercial soundtrack album).
Woody Allen films released by Twilight Time include Love and Death (1975), Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days(1987), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and the Allen starring in the Red Menace satire The Front (1976).
© 2014 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review