Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) / Comedy-Mystery
MPAA Rated: PG for mild violence
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Adler, Melanie Norris, Marge Redmond, Joy Behar, Lynn Cohen
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Review published January 16, 2004
Although the film deals with murder at the core of the plot, Manhattan Murder Mystery proves to be one of the lightest of Woody Allen's films, playing everything as a straight comedy, and the result is one of his most entertaining and accessible films yet. Although parts of the plot resemble some of Hitchcock's finest (Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Lady Vanishes), this is pure comic Woody all of the way. There are also many allusions to other great films, including Double Indemnity and an homage to the ending to Orson Welles, The Lady from Shanghai that works well with the themes of the cinema of old, and how they just don't make them like they used to.
Allen (Manhattan, Mighty Aphrodite) and Keaton (Something's Gotta Give, The Godfather) play a longtime married New York couple, Larry and Carol Lipton. They bump into another older couple one night, Paul (Adler, For Better or Worse) and Lillian House (Cohen, Deconstructing Harry), who invite them over for some socializing, and what ends as a boring evening turns exciting later in the week when Lillian dies suddenly. Carol thinks that Paul doesn't seem to be lamenting the loss of his wife as much as he should, which sets the wheels in motion in her mind that foul play may have been involved. She starts piecing together clues that Lillian was, in fact, murdered, and her quest to get to the bottom of things spells trouble for the prying couple.
Manhattan Murder Mystery reunites Woody Allen with Marshall Brickman, screenwriter for three of Allen's most acclaimed films: Annie Hall, Sleeper, and the other Manhattan flick, Manhattan (Brickman would ironically also pen still another, non-Woody Allen flick, The Manhattan Project). It's a lively and energetic affair, with the performances you'd expect from Allen and frequent sidekick, Keaton. As a mystery, it's not really all that compelling, nor does it really make a whole lot of sense, but that's not the reason why you'd ever want to see this film anyway. You expect to laugh, and on that level, Mystery succeeds quite well. It's not a laugh-out-loud movie exactly, but it will probably leave most smiling from beginning to end, with more quotable lines from the always dependable Allen.
Manhattan Murder Mystery is recommended for all Woody Allen fans, for a frothy and intelligent excursion. It's also highly recommended for old thriller fans, from Hitchcock to Welles to film noir, you'll recognize many of your favorite scenes and plots cobbled together here in a loving tribute to the mysteries of yesteryear. Good stuff.
©2004 Vince Leo