Apr 12, 2015

Review: Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Woody Allen, a workhorse if I ever saw one when it comes to making movies was going through a bit of a crisis when Manhattan Murder Mystery was released in 1993. Although it was down to a slow simmering at this point, his break up with Mia Farrow and all the details that had come out were still tabloid material. I'm not much for celebrity gossip though nor am I going to go into whether or not Allen shouldn't have done what he did. I'm here to review his work and I've always been able to separate a celebrity's personal life from their work.

Point is, the filming of Manhattan Murder Mystery wasn't an easy time in Woody Allen's life. Allen had directed thirteen movies with Mia Farrow and she originally was going to star in MMM as usual. Diane Keaton was brought in after a fourteen year gap since the last time Allen and her had worked together and the rest is history. Despite Allen's current problems, things were apparently very calm on-set and a lot of that was due to Keaton's presence.


At a Glance

Genre: comedy, mystery
Directed by: Woody Allen
Produced by: Robert Greenhut, Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins, etc.
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Music by: N/A
Running time: 104 minutes
Production company: TriStar Pictures
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures, Columbia TriStar, Finnkino, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $13,500,000
Box office: $11,330,911 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jerry Adler, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Lynn Cohen, Ron Rifkin, Joy Behar, William Addy, John Doumanian, Sylvia Kauders, Ira Wheeler, Zach Braff



Larry (Woody Allen) and Carol (Diane Keaton) Lipton meet their neighbours Paul (Jerry Adler) and Lilian (Lynn Cohen) House in the elevator, prompting a short visit in their apartment. The next day however, Lilian shockingly dies of a heart attack. Larry and Carol run into Paul outside the apartment later that night and offer to help in any way that they can. Carol believes that Paul seemed a little too chipper for someone who just lost their wife and decides to keep an eye on him. The evidence begins to mount as Carol firmly believes that Paul murdered Lilian despite Larry not taking her seriously in the matter.


So the question is, do Woody Allen and Diane Keaton still have chemistry after those long, fourteen years since Manhattan? The answer to that would be a resounding yes. While it's true that they're pretty much just playing middle-aged versions of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall from Annie Hall, it's impossible not to enjoy how well the pair play off one another. Allen and Keaton don't miss a beat in MMM and there are probably very few pairings in cinema that work better. 

Carol has that frantic energy that Diane Keaton usually puts into all her characters, but she's of course supported by the strong dialogue that Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman have provided for her. Carol is also adventurous and unafraid of taking risks. Larry on the other hand has grown timid over the years and doesn't like to step over the line. He's the kind of guy who would order the same thing at a restaurant again and again out of fear of disappointment.

Carol embarking on this wild detective hunt is of course something that creates a divide between her and her husband. The whole mystery angle is actually loads of fun and the story as a whole passes the eye test. Everything seems to make logical sense and I certainly didn't notice any plot holes. Even if there are some, Manhattan Murder Mystery is thrilling when it needs to be and it's funny when it needs to be. It gets the job done on all counts.

I'm particularly a fan of the scenes where Carol does some of her more sneaky detective work, such as going into Paul's apartment while he's out. I cringe pretty hard during moments that could cause intense social awkwardness, so those scenes took the cake for me. Allen also fills certain scenes with a sense of foreboding more than once that I definitely wasn't expecting which was a nice touch. The climax is also really impressive as far as mystery films go.

Allen seems to let his longtime cinematographer Carlo Di Palma go a little wild with his camera work. Playful pans and zooms are the norm here. The different techniques that Di Palma uses however heighten the film's suspense even further and seem well suited for a mystery film such as this. It gave me the feeling that I was watching some sort of 1950's crime/mystery film, so I'd definitely give Di Palma's work in MMM a thumbs up.

Supporting characters in Manhattan Murder Mystery such as Ted (Alan Alda) and Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston) are predictably fun as supporting actors usually are in Woody Allen films. Funnily enough, MMM happens to be the acting debut of Zach Braff who plays the son of Carol and Larry. Imagine the terror of acting on film for the first time with such legends, geez. Anyhow, Woody Allen is in superb form as a writer and director. MMM is funny on many occasions and the story is a blast to follow as Larry, Carol and co. try to figure out what Paul House has done to his wife, if anything.



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