Manhattan Murder Mystery (Woody Allen, 1993)

“Well, he’s a little mousey. They could have their little rodent time together, they could eat cheese together…”

Introduction
I am watching so many Woody Allen films. And I love it. There is something so comfortable about his films and this ‘murder mystery’ is no different. And the comedy is so intelligent – and thats not to say that I’m intelligent, just that you have to think through the one-liners. Much like a favourite comedian Jimmy Carr, these one-liners from Woody Allen is what makes him so intelligent – except Woody squeezes these one-liners into a dramatic story.

Apparently, originally this Murder Mystery was squeezed into Annie Hall but, thank God, the Marshall Brickman/Woody Allen script for Annie Hall has no murder element whatsoever. But, Allen does team up with Marshall Brickman to complete this script so it does remain as chirpy as Annie Hall but without the heart. I think it was Madonna who said that “there are all the songs about people breaking-up and getting together – but none about staying together”. This film has a great strong central theme in how couples can stay together.

Happily Married Couple
Strangely enough, even though Woody Allen had just ended his relationship with Mia Farrow (asking Keaton to stand in her role – which she accepted fully), this seems to be a great film highlighting how fun relationships built on solid foundations can be. We meet Lenny (Woody Allen) and Linda (Diane Keaton) who are happily married. Through the film we see how they lust after others – and how others, to some extent, offer themselves but, unlike Mr and Mrs House, they are clearly made for each other.

The first act shakes these foundations a little – establishing a close relationship between Linda and Ted (Alan Alda) akin to the relationship Alan and, interestingly, Diana Keatons ‘Linda’ character in Play It Again, Sam. These two films go very well hand-in-hand – as if this is a strange version of the same story, using the same dynamic: a male character who has recently ended his relationship with his wife and indirectly, the support of a married couple twists his persepctive – falling for the married woman and, to some extent, the woman is attracted to him. In Play it Again, Sam, we see it from the perspective of the recently-divorced character Alan, whereas in Manhattan Murder Mystery we see a lot more from the perspective of the married couple. Fact is, they are strong and – though this highlights a certain ‘rocky’ patch in their relationship – there are no affairs here. Vague attempts that fail perhaps, but Linda and Lenny stay strong and talk through their concerns and become a stronger couple through the film.

Amateur Private-Eyes

In the first few acts, Linda’s obsession with the murder seems completely ridiculous – you side with Lenny as he is completely amazed at how Linda and Ted are so excited by, what appears to be, a completely unneccessary focus. In its playfulness, the characters talk about the murder over dinner and concoct a wide range of different scenarios to justify the actions of Mr House. Its shown in such an amateur light – with no real depth and we are merely ‘playing along’. It all changes when, in correlation with Ted unsuccessfully attempting to begin a relationship with Linda, Linda see’s the woman we initially believed was dead: Mrs House.

This changes the dynamic completely – and, now I think  about it – maybe this is purposefully linked with the games played between Ted and Linda. Up until that point, Ted and Linda are merely flirting and toying with each others emotions – akin to their flirting and toying with ideas about murder comitted by their next-door neighbour. As soon as Ted is rebuffed – their flirting coming to an end – the murder is shown to be false, the potential-love between Ted and Linda proved false. Fact is, after this sequence Ted is not seen so much as Linda and Lenny reignite the flame of their relationship by hunting down Mrs House. WOAH! Mrs House – a metaphor for a home-life? Linda and Lenny ‘find’ their happy home-life again? Perhaps…

Steeped in Cinema

Like most Woody Allen films, this has its fair share of cinematic references. To some extent this reminds me of Hitchcock – whereby a murder is set within a very comedic tone. Think Family Plot and Rear Window rather than Psycho and Frenzy. Additionally, we even see footage from The Lady from Shanghai starring Orson Welles. In fact, the entire sequence as Mr House walks around, gun in hand, mirrors surrounding them, remind me of The Man with the Golden Gun – but I am sure, like most James Bond films, that was, in turn, influenced by something else. The whole, multi-angled, even cubist imagery must come from somewhere … though I can’t think for the life of me where the first cubist film came from.

Cameo’s A-Plenty

Lots of cameos too – Zach Braff has his first feature debut as Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s child. A brief, even pointless role, though something that must have been incredibly important for Braff. Mr House is played by Jerry Adler – aka Hesh from The Sopranos. This is not something new. I shall reveal the many more Sopranos/New-York actors that regularly turn up in Woody Allen films (Some in Celebrity, and more in Mighty Aphrodite) and, in this case, we also meet Aida Turturro – aka Janice in Sopranos – too, as a cleaner. Clearly, casting director Juliet Taylor knows who to pick.

Enjoyable, Not Outstanding

So, lets conclude this ‘insight’. Diane Keaton again proves to be an incredible actress playing an even more obsessive character than Woody Allen normally does – thats not to say that Woody doesn’t play the neurotic obsessive again. This is three year after The Godfather Part III when Keaton played her much more serious role of Kay – so it shows how reat she is as an actress. In Manhattan Murder Mystery, you understand their relationship whereby in the final act, both characters get obsessed with the murder concocting an incredible plan to ‘catch’ the culprit.

As stated previously, its lovely to place it next to Play it Again, Sam but simply doesn’t have the charm – though it is great to see such a new angle taken on relationships – supporting monogamy rather than most of Woody Allens whereby characters simply find someone to lust after and, against all the odds, score. This is nice to see a couple sensibly work things out – albeit within the context of a ridiculous murder plot.

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4 comments

  1. We also have been in a Woody Allen film fest. Our faves are “September”, “Radio Days” and “Another Woman”. What do you think of his 80's – early 90's films?

  2. @Landrew120880 – I've been trying so hard to work my way through the movies and yte you throw up three I haven't seen. Two things go through my mind. 1, I feel like I am so behind now with my woody allen films but 2, clearly there are many many more treats in store!

  3. I didn't know much about this one (aside from the intriguing title) but from your description it sounds really interesting! I like that it seems to focus more on an established relationship than just people having affairs. I'll definitely check it out. Great post!

  4. Thanks Alex! I think film based on 'established relationships' truly show something more rooted in reality. The fantasy of meeting the perfect person we can hypothetise about all the time – but it is exceptionally rare to find the right person to commit to…

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