Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) Woody Allen

“Manhattan Murder Mystery”  is one of my favorites and maybe is my all time favorite Woody Allen film. Like many, I am a fan of “The Thin Man” movies and other amateur sleuth husband and wife type films that have appeared over the years. Think “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford” or “There is Always A Woman” or “Mr. and Mrs. North.” They’re light, entertaining and if you’re lucky there is a good mystery and some laughs.

The film is a throwback to some extent of Allen’s earlier work, which make sense since the script written by Allen and his former partner Marshall Brickman years ago and tossed in a draw only to be excavated after the trials, tribulations and accusations of his former lover Mia Farrow. Mia was originally supposed to play the part of Carol but due to all the personal animosity, Allen wisely sought out former lover and screen co-star Diane Keaton.  And let me say, Keaton is a marvel here, the driving force of the entire story. They look as comfortable working together as a pair of well-worn shoes.

    One criticism that has been leveled at the film is that Allen and Keaton are just playing older versions of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall. While there may be some validity to this, I don’t see it as detrimental. After all, didn’t Chaplin mainly play the same tramp character in each of his films as did Laurel and Hardy and Bob Hope.

Larry (Allen) and Carol (Keaton) Lipton are a empty nest couple living on the Upper East Side of New York. Their son Nick (Zach Braff) has recently gone off to college and they spend their time having dinner with friends, going to hockey games, movies and concerts. After walking out of Lincoln Center one night in the middle of a concert Larry quips, “I’m sorry, but every time I hear Wagner, I get the urge to conquer Poland.”

  One Saturday evening after a hockey game at Madison Square Garden, Larry and Carol meet their neighbors Paul and Lillian House.  The older couple invites the Lipton’s in for a cup of coffee. While Lillian shows Carol her new exercise machine, Paul bores Larry with his stamp collection. “My favorite thing in life is to look at cancelled postage,” say Larry, who is more interested in watching an old Bob Hope movie that was going to be on TV.

Soon after, Lillian House dies and Carol becomes suspicious and obsesses about the woman’s death because Mr. House does not seem remorseful enough about his wife’s passing.   At first, Larry is reluctant to go along with Carol’s theories but is soon caught up in “her murder case” as she insistently calls it at one point. Also getting involved in the case is their friend, recently divorced playwright Ted (Alan Alda), who is not too subtle about his crush on Carol, continually encouraging her to open up a restaurant that he would help her run. “Ted sees himself as Rick in “Casablanca, I see him more as Peter Lorre”, Larry retorts.

Larry tries to hook Ted up with Marcia Fox (Angelica Huston), a novelist and sexy client of Larry’s, who is a book editor for Harper’s Publishing. Marcia’s creative mind conjures up a plan to expose Mr. House as the killer. Her theories on the murder, which turn out to be fairly correct, along with her sexy presence clearly intimidate Carol and turn on both Ted and Larry.  Carol in fact believes Larry is a little too fascinated with the tantalizing Marcia.

The Lipton’s get more and more involved until the climatic ending that screenwriters Allen and Brickman set up in a repertory movie theater in Queens, owned by Mr. House, and an ending that mirrors Orson Welles “The Lady from Shanghai.”

Allen, as he does in many of his films, references classic movies. At the beginning of the film, Larry wants to get home quickly after the hockey game to catch a late night Bob Hope movie (Hope was an Allen favorite and clearly a large influence on the Woody persona.) Early in the film they also meet two friends at a flea market on Canal Street (Ron Rifkin and Joy Behar), and together attend a showing of Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity.” Finally, at the end of the film is the shoot out that  pays homage to Welles “The Lady from Shanghai.”

Along with Keaton’s fine performance, and the natural camaraderie and charm between her and Allen, Angelica Huston’s portrayal of the sexy long-legged confident Marcia Fox is a joy to watch.

My only problem with the film is the shaky hand-held camera work of cinematographer Carlo DiPalma, which I found intermittently annoying. His seemingly useless movement of the camera, in a restaurant scene where Allen and five other principals are discussing the murder, constantly blocking the character who is speaking by placing the camera behind the head of another. At times like this, it was downright frustrating.

At the time it opened “Manhattan Murder Mystery” was met with generally good reviews but was accused of being a lightweight Allen comedy and it is. This is no “Crimes and Misdemeanors” or “Husband and Wives.” As a mystery, do not expect Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.   What we get is a neurotic Nick and Nora Charles fumbling their way through a murder “investigation.”  At one point, Larry ever reluctant to get involved tells Carol to “save the craziness for menopause.”

****

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27 comments on “Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) Woody Allen

  1. Judy says:

    I remember loving this movie and your review makes me want to see it again, John. It is a special delight to see Alan Alda in roles like this, since I enjoyed his work so much over the years in M.A.S.H. Great to have all the classic movie references pointed out!

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  2. […] Murder Mystery up at “Twenty Four Frames.”  It’s another great one by John: https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/manhattan-murder-mystery-1993-woody-allen/   ***Judy at “Movie Classics” has a fabulous pre-code review up on Night Nurse. which […]

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  3. Nyc Psychic says:

    Hey I love many of Woddy’s movies, every is movie of his seems to be always the same in content and view. Like yourself it doesn’t bother me either b/c its either u like or you don’t.

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  4. Davey says:

    One of Woody’s best. Great to see some love.

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  5. R.D. Finch says:

    John, thanks for your review of this movie, which I’ve been intrigued by and wondered about. Your post means I’ll definitely be watching it soon. One of the great values of movie blogs for me is to give me the push to see something I’ve noticed but haven’t made the decision to see. Interesting comments about the camera work by the usually great di Palma. You named some of the things that really irritate me too. I read one critic recently who in his decade round-up cited the shaky/roving-camera-for-no-good-reason fad as something that is thankfully on the way out. I for one will be happy to see it go.

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  6. John Greco says:

    R.D., I would like to know your thoughts once you see this film. I agree with you on blogs enticing one to catch movies that you may have been on the border about whether to watch or not. Thanks again for your input.

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  7. Dave says:

    John – This one has been moved to the top of my Netflix queue. Now that the noir countdown list is set, I can begin to catch up on other films that I need to see… and this is one of them. As I’m sure you noticed from the yearly countdown, I’ve slowly been becoming an even bigger Woody fan. Such a prolific director, you really have me looking forward to it now!

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  8. Sam Juliano says:

    Sorry I am so late to the party here John, but it has nothing to do I assure you with my enthusiasm with this film, which is considerable. (even if, like you I also have some issues with di Palma’s hand-held camera, which for this film was rather over-used. I love the locations, and particular – as is usually the case with Allen – the glorious references to the old classics he venerates, including THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. But yes, this certainly is no CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS or HUSBANDS AND WIVES.

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    • John Greco says:

      DiPalma’s camerawork is frustrating here for sure, Sam. Still I always enjoy this film and watch it at least once a year. Thanks!

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  9. J.D. says:

    I love this film also and it is easily my fave film of his from the 1990s. As you point out, it really is a throwback to Woody’s ANNIE HALL/MANHATTAN days. If memory serves, ANNIE HALL was originally to have the murder mystery subplot but Woody took it out.

    There is just something comforting about watching this film and whenever its on TV I invariably find myself watching it all the way through ’til the end.

    Excellent write-up!

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks J.D., yes I believe you are right about the connection to Annie Hall. The comfort level you mention, to me, has to do with the cinematic compatibility of Woody and Diane Keaton. They work so well together and this was sort of like old friends getting back together one more time. It was like they were never apart.

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  10. 79km says:

    This was the first one of his films I saw, and I loved it. Still do, even though I have other favourites now (Match Point, Interiors, Deconstructing Harry). This is definitely one of the funniest.

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  11. John Greco says:

    Deconstructing Harry is one film that has elluded me so far. Tough one to find. Match Point I am a big fan of an it made my top 21 list for the decade. See attached.
    http://watchingshadowsonthewall.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/top-21-films-of-the-decade/

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  12. Kitty says:

    That “shaky hand-held camera work” caused me all sorts of problem with my vertigo when I saw it in the theater, but I still loved it. It’s NY; what’s not to love? I have been able to tolerate it on TV, so maybe I’ll get a copy for my collection.

    My all-time favorite Allen movie is Radio Days.

    Question: I’ve been trying to figure out in what Woody Allen movie does he talk about getting sick once he leaves NYC? I think he’s in LA in the scene, but I’m not sure. It was hilarious! I haven’t be able to find a reference of it anywhere, and it’s driving me nutz!

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    • John Greco says:

      Hi Kitty,

      Radio Days is a good one. I acutally just watched it again before the holidays.

      I think the movie you are thinking of is “Annie Hall” where he goes out to L.A.

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  13. Kitty says:

    Thanks! I thought it might be, too. I found an old script online, but the dialogue wasn’t the hilarious I-get-sick-just-leaving-NY that I recall from the movie. Then again, it was an ‘old’ version of the script.

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  14. John Greco says:

    From what I have read, Annie Hall went through many versions before the final script made it to film, so a you mention, what you read could have been an early version of the film.

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  15. Richard Armstrong says:

    I recently bought a used video of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY in Paris only to discover that the film is in black and white. Was MMM, by some chance, released on the Continent in a colour and a monochrome version?

    I have adjusted the colour setting on my telelvsion, so this is not a glitch in my equipment.

    I would welcome any elucidation…

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    • John Greco says:

      Richard,

      That seems odd, I have never read of a black and white version of the film though I cannot say for sure. My only thought is that your purchase could be unknowningly a bootleg copy, but that is just a guess.

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  16. DorianTB says:

    John, I thoroughly enjoyed your fond MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY post! When I hear people saying things about MMM such as “lightweight” and “Allen and Keaton are just playing older versions of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall,” I say, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!” 🙂 If anything, the playful sparring and warmth between Diane Keaton and Woody Allen is a big part of its charm, like having a delightful reunion with old friends, with plenty of affectionate salutes to beloved classic movies (I wonder which Bob Hope movie Allen’s character was so eager to watch? :-))

    I’m pleased that you don’t mind that I’ll be doing my own take on MMM later this week. With our two different approaches to MMM, I think it’ll be lots of fun to compare and contrast, with something for everyone to enjoy! 🙂

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    • John Greco says:

      Glad you liked it Dorian and look forward to your own take on it. Allen and Keaton make a charming neurotic pair and like you mention the film has “plenty of affectionate salutes to beloved classic movies.”

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  17. I’m happy to learn that others think so highly of this one, as it’s definitely a top five Woody movie on my list. I reviewed the movie back in April, 2011.

    http://hollywooddreamland.blogspot.com/2011/04/husband-wife-detectives-manhattan.html

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  18. John Greco says:

    C.K.,

    I love this film for a few reasons, one obviously being the THIN MAN analogy and another is I lived in the neighborhood where some of the film was made so it’s kind of like visiting the old homestead. You also have keaton reuniting with Woody which is an excellent touch. She was his best partner, not to take anything away from Farrow but Keaton just nails Woody’s world. I will check ouyt you review. Thanks for the link!

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