Someone who had never seen Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen, 1984) might be excused for thinking that the two people in this picture are romantically linked. That's what's so funny about the scene from which it is taken. Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow) and Danny Rose (Mr Allen) aren't linked, they're tied up together. Danny, who books singers and performers, has just remembered the rope trick that Shandar, one of his old acts, used to do. The trick to breaking free of the rope, Danny recalls, is to wriggle. So here he and Tina are, wriggling, chest to chest, gyrating for all the world like lovers who have somehow forgotten to take their clothes off.
Tina and Danny are not particularly friendly, much less taken with each other. Tina has already betrayed Danny, even without knowing him, and Danny (who doesn't know about the betrayal yet) thinks that Tina is Bad News. He'd prefer to have nothing to do with her, but, as a favor to his biggest act, a sentimental singer named Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), he has undertaken to secure Tina's presence at the Waldorf, where Lou is going to have the chance to make a big comeback, that evening. Tina doesn't want to go because she's tired of being the woman with whom Lou is two-timing his wife.
So Danny has had to chase Tina all over northern New Jersey, in the process bringing down the wrath of the mother of one of Tina's admirers, a fatuous would-be poet who is the only white sheep in his family. His brothers lose no time tracking Tina and Danny down, and are prepared to murder Danny when he tells them that Tina's actual boyfriend is - and here he tells a lie, not wishing to imperil Lew's gig at the Waldorf. So the thugs tie the two up and go off to check out Danny stories. If they come back unsatisfied, it will be curtains for Danny. That's why he's inspired to wriggle.
The panache of the scene really becomes more startling each time I see this picture. It's silly, it's naughty, and it's even a little dangerous (what if it doesn't work?). It's an ironic send-up, because you can be sure that erotic impusles are not inspiring either character's wriggling. There is the bittersweet angle, too, when one recalls that erotic impulses have done Mr Allen's reputation more harm than they have done to Bill Clinton's. I know that I'm in the minority - it may even be a minority of one - but I believe that most of Woody Allen's best movies were made with Mia Farrow. As I recall, critics were surprised by Ms Farrow's performance. Playing the hard-boiled Tina gave her a chance to show them that she could act.
The ending of Broadway Danny Rose is arguably the most poignant in Mr Allen's canon. Having lost Lou Canova that evening at the Waldorf to a more high-powered agent, Sid Bacharach (played by real-life Broadway mogul Gerald Schoenfeld) - all as the result of Tina's wangling - Danny's stable is reduced to an arcade of animal acts, balloon-tiers, and other barely viable oddballs. Some time has passed, and, as always, Danny is hosting Thanksgiving dinner for his clients at his small flat near Carnegie Hall. It is an utterly pathetic feast of TV-dinners served in an apartment with no view. The doorbell rings: it's Tina, who hasn't been having a good time, either. She wants to make up. Danny doesn't; he won't ask her in. She turns away. He closes the door and falls into thought. The film cuts to Danny's running out of his building and up Seventh Avenue, where he catches up with Tina right in front of the Carnegie Deli. There are no close-ups. New York goes on about its business oblivious. It's a small moment, but almost unbearable. (June 2005)
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