Manhattan Murder Mystery

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton star as Larry and Carol Lipton, a middle-aged New York couple that are beginning to become bored with their life and each other. Carol spends a lot of time with her recently divorced friend Ted (Alan Alda), and Larry is beginning to develop a little jealousy. When they meet the elderly couple next door Paul (Jerry Adler) and Lillian House (Lynn Cohen) and spend an evening discussing stamps, Larry decides that he wants to avoid his neighbours at all costs. But the next day, Lillian turns up suddenly dead, Carol suspects foul play and with plenty of encouragement from the increasingly amorous Ted, begins a little investigation into Paul and his affairs. Naturally, the anxious and progressively more jealous Larry tries vainly to discourage Carol’s obsessive detective fantasy but when his client and friend, the forward and openly sexual writer Marcia Fox (Anjelica Houston), takes an interest, Larry too becomes interested in the case.

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Manhattan Murder Mystery, filmed whilst Woody was in the midst of a very public divorce with Mia Farrow because of his affair with adopted daughter Soon Yi, is the first of a decade of nothing but comedies (thirteen feature films) for Woody, who must have had enough drama in his personal life. The perfectly noir-ish direction of this black comedy also serves as a subtle nod to the Thin Man series, who’s main characters Nick and Nora Charles were the inspiration for the Liptons. Also the title, whether intentionally or not acts as a reminder of his earlier film Manhattan [1979] – where, in a plot that foresaw the real-life events fourteen years later, Woody’s character falls in love with a nineteen-year old girl.

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The film is funny, and has a really nice rough touch and loose feel that comes from the late casting of Diane Keaton (to replace Mia), a fair bit of handheld camera work, very subtle scoring, really natural performances from actors that have all played similar roles in other Woody films and numerous locations and outside filming. Funnily enough though, even with a multitude of locations, the film still has a very stage play-like quality (along with most of Woody’s productions from 1991-1995[1]) that really brings the performances and the funny funny (that is funny x2) script to life. Unpretentious, simple, classic funny Woody Allen.

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[1] Bullets over Broadway [1994] is about a playwright; Don’t drink the Water [1994] and Une Aspirine Pour Deux [1995] were both written for the stage; Mighty Aphrodite [1995] has a number of scenes in a Greek amphitheatre with chorus; and Everybody Says I Love You [1996] was a musical.