Manhattan Murder Mystery
- Woody Allen as Larry Lipton
- Diane Keaton as Carol Lipton
- Alan Alda as Ted
- Anjelica Huston as Marcia Fox
- Jerry Adler as Paul House
Something of an underrated movie in the scope of Woody Allen’s prolific filmography, Manhattan Murder Mystery has a rapid fire humour and playfulness that is hard to resist. If it’s a light but still amusing comedy, crossed with a murder mystery, this could be the film for you. It isn’t going to be seen as one of his masterpieces, but in my book it deserves a lot more recognition.
Larry and Carol Lipton are a middle-aged married couple who are anything but similar. Larry is a nervous, cynical man stuck in a cycle, while Carol is adventurous and loves a sense of excitement. The couple have settled into a period of normalcy that is more or less dullness and complacency. Larry works as a publisher, while Carol dreams of opening a restaurant some day. The repetitive nature of their lives is suddenly changed when their elderly neighbour’s(an elderly couple named Paul and Lillian House) invite them to have a nightcap. Lillian is a remarkably healthy woman for her age, her husband Paul is a stamp collector, who proceeds to bore Larry to tears as he waxes lyrical about his hobby. The next day, Larry and Carol are shocked when is found dead of a heart attack. Feeling strange since they only just met the couple and because seemed so healthy, Carol in particular becomes a little suspicious of Paul. For one, he doesn’t seem at all to be an emotional wreck at his wife’s death, rather he appears to be rejuvenated and overly genial. Certain other things arouse Carol’s interest and she comes to suspect Paul of murdering his wife. Nebbish Larry dismisses her claims as fanciful but Carol sees it as an opportunity to do some sleuthing. Her good friend and recently divorced charmer Ted joins her in this amateur investigation, which makes Larry a little jealous because it is obvious Paul has feelings for Paul and she could possibly reciprocate. After being caught in many close shaves investigating the mysterious Paul, Carol manages to coerce Larry into helping, albeit reluctantly. Also of help is the sexy Marcia Fox, a mystery author and one of Larry’s clients who he plans to set up with Ted. Carol though begins to think that Marcia is more interested in making a move on her husband than his literature. As a sort of flirting rectangle forms, the quartet join forces to discover the truth. Was the neighbour really murdered by he relatively unassuming and apparently good-hearted husband? Or is Carol’s imagination getting the better of her? And what will become of these romantic entanglements between the group? To spoil all of that would be a sin.
Woody Allen brings a whole lot of energy to Manhattan Murder Mystery, blending together romantic issues with a mystery to good effect. The two things shouldn’t really work together but Allen makes it move along in an almost harmonious fashion. In a sense there are two mysteries going on, the one revolving around suspicion of murder and the other of will any of the flirtations in the quadrangle amount to anything more. There are times when the movie goes on a bit, but this can be seen as a minor flaw in an underrated entry into his movies. There is a definite ring of familiarity with the film and the characters that makes us know it’s a Woody Allen movie, and yet it still works well because the audience at least you know the kind of madcap humour you will get and the types of character personas. Allen playfully alludes to Hitchcock not some cracking sequences, mixing his trademark humour with some tension filled touches that add up to a good little package. With the use of a roving camera, everything is always moving, including the story. This unusual camera trick is employed very well to give the sense of adventure and rejuvenation Carol finds while playing Nancy Drew and the technique only occasionally becomes overbearing. A lovely jazz soundtrack is utilised in Manhattan Murder Mystery that supplies lots of fun to the amusing story.
Starring as he often does in his movies, Woody Allen reprises his worrisome, talkative and cynical persona audiences know and love to good effect here, complete with an array of hysterical one liners as his character Larry becomes concerned that his wife is concocting a fantasy. With Diane Keaton returning to Woody Allen movies, it’s an added bonus watching them play off each other. Having been his one time muse, Keaton knows exactly how to deliver his brand of comedy with ease and it shine through here in her performance as the free-spirited and offbeat Carol. Giving the part a whole lot of energy, exact comic timing and warmth, it is a triumph for Keaton that catches the eye almost immediately. And nothing is quite like watching these two bounce off each playing the bickering married couple. Providing reliable support is Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston in delightful performances. Alda has a likable persona and cheeky grin that is used well to play the open-minded and eager Ted. There is certain twinkle in Alda’s eye that is unmistakable and adds a lot to his character. Anjelica Huston relishes the role of the vampy authoress Marcia, whose expertise in the mystery genre prove very helpful during the sleuthing that takes place. Combining sassy confidence and ample sex appeal with a quick talking intellect, Huston is the perfect actress for the part. As the suspected murderer and neighbour, Jerry Adler displays a geniality that could very well belie something else and entirely different.
Peppered with humour as well as quite a bit of tension woven in, Manhattan Murder Mystery may have that ring of been there done that in a few instances, but the overall product is a delightfully funny trifle of a movie.