Manhattan Murder Mystery

It’s one of those Ronseal titles, isn’t it? You know, does exactly what it says on the tin. Manhattan Murder Mystery (Woody Allen, 1993) is a murder mystery set in Manhattan. There’s a mystery and a murder. And all this murder and mystery happens… in Manhattan.

Woody Allen in Manhattan Murder Mystery

"My life is passing before my eyes. The worst part about it is that I'm driving a used car."

The setting is Manhattan, the mystery is a murder and the murder is a mystery. Married couple Larry and Carol Lipton (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) live in a high-rise Manhattan apartment, where it’s easy to suspect but difficult to prove. After their neighbour Lillian House unexpectedly dies, Carol’s imagination is fueled by a screening of Double Indemnity, and she begins to suspect Lillian’s husband Paul of murder. Larry is unenthused by the prospect of spying on nice Mr. House, but recently-divorced Ted (Alan Alda) is keen to investigate with Carol, leaving Larry more suspicious of foreplay than foul play.

The proceedings are deliberately manufactured and wildly farcical, from Rear Window-inspired snooping in Paul’s apartment to a stopped lift containing a corpse; as Larry nervously quips, “claustrophobia and a dead body, this is a neurotic’s jackpot!” The camera work is also strangely hyperactive for a Woody Allen movie, full of nauseating handheld cameras and distracting zoom-ins. The tense moments, however, are more effective than you would expect. It is this, and the strength of the dialogue and stars, that make the film a joy to behold regardless of its shortcomings. If you like Woody Allen, you’ll forgive him his foibles, and I do.

As an amateur film-buff I got a kick out of the references to various classic films, as I do with many of Woody Allen’s films. As well as the Double Indemnity reference and Hitchcock-style plot, the ending is an elaborately-staged homage to the famous shootout scene from The Lady From Shanghai, in an extreme case of art in which life appears to imitate art. It even references Allen’s own work, as the murder plot itself is a leftover from Annie Hall, and the reunion of Allen and Keaton makes their characters apparently greying versions of Annie and Alvy.

It falls into a certain category of Woody Allen films from which I derive particular pleasure. Nostalgic pieces like The Purple Rose of Cairo, Radio Days and Broadway Danny Rose draw their inspiration from a bygone era of filmmaking, and indeed of life itself. Much like Everyone Says I Love You is a fond tribute to the musical comedy as well as a parody of the innate absurdity of said genre, Manhattan Murder Mystery pokes Hitchcock lovingly but painfully in the ribs. They really don’t make ’em like that anymore, but when Woody Allen draws inspiration from ’em, it’s as close as anyone can get without it feeling like an anachronism.

Four woodies out of five

3 Responses to “Manhattan Murder Mystery”

  1. I’ve always enjoyed “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, it’s one of those great ones to settle down for an afternoon (or an evening) with. Carol’s enthusiasm as she attempts to better the excitement she and Larry had when solving the “Noises In The Attic Mystery” is infectious, and hilarious.

    The Welles homage at the end is great too.

    This came right after “Husbands and Wives”, which had the same hand-held camera style. I think it suited “Husbands and Wives” better than this, but you’re right, the tense moments do really work. And the wit, as ever, sparkles.

  2. Cool blog ;)

    Woody head rating system = Golden.

  3. […] decided to re-watch The Lady From Shanghai last night, after the homage in Manhattan Murder Mystery got me in the mood for it. One reviewer on IMDb summarizes it quite accurately in just four words: […]

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