Sunday, October 13, 2013
MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY
(August 1993, U.S.)
The prospect of Woody Allen teaming up with Diane Keaton again for the first time since MANHATTAN (though she did have a small singing cameo in RADIO DAYS) must have looked very financially promising to TriStar Pictures because without doing any serious research into it, it's the only Woody Allen film to be released during the summer blockbuster season, as far as I'm aware. For this Woody Allen fan, it was a return to the "mother's milk" of on-screen Woody Allen film chemistry because in my opinion, Woody never worked better with any co-star than Diane Keaton! It was also the return of writer Marshall Brickman, the other half of Woody Allen that had made previous films like SLEEPER (1973), ANNIE HALL (1977) and MANHATTAN (1979) so successful. On screen, Allen and Keaton have always been made for each other and in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, they still strike wonderful sparks of ditziness.
Allen and Keaton Manhattan married couple Larry and Carol who meet their next-door neighbors Paul and Lilian House (yes, I said HOUSE) for the first time after returning home from a Ranger hockey game at Madison Square Garden. Their encounter starts off pleasantly enough when they join them for coffee and conversation, but things turn the very next day when they learn that Lilian has died from an apparent heart attack. As in many mysteries, suspicions begin when Carol catches Paul in a lie when she discovers an earn filled with cremated ashes in his kitchen after he claimed his wife had been buried. Now although it may not seem all that deliberate, Woody begins to dive into the realm of Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW (1954) whereas one neighbor suspects another neighbor of foul play and the one closest to the suspicious one just cannot agree or conceive of the same act. Carol suspicions continue to mount and Larry continues to downplay or disregard the entire idea of murder in that infamous Woody Allen style of nervous, paranoid and neurotic behavior. Marital jealousy also develops when Carol's best friend Ted (played by Alan Alda) not only supports her suspicious theories of murder, but also tries to help her solve the ultimate mystery. Larry, of course, suspects that Ted is attracted to his wife, which he's not wrong about. Larry, on the other hand, is getting closer to one of his clients, author Marcia Fox (played by Angelica Houston). She's not only very attractive and highly sexual, but also very intelligent and very keen on trying to catch a potential murderer herself; hence the jealousy on Carol's side.
So by a certain point in the film, all four key members are working together to try and trap Paul into falling victim to his own guilt. They have no proof, mind you, so they can only rely on some very strategic bluffing and some carefully constructed tape recordings. One scene in particular, is very reminiscent of some great early classic Woody Allen comedy of the 1970s when the group's plan with the telephone and the tape recordings starts to go wrong and Larry is desperately and very sloppily trying to put the tape ribbon back together again. Watch him go at it and tell me you don't start having these great memories of him in SLEEPER or LOVE AND DEATH. It's classic, it's funny and you wish you could see more of it on screen! By the time the film climaxes, the murdering neighbor is caught (and killed) and the ultimate plot behind his crime is revealed to the audience (don't worry...I won't spoil it for you now), all to the backdrop of Orson Welles' film noir classic, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947). As you watch this little bit of screen farfetchedness, you can't help but take Larry's thought on it to heart in which he states that he's never say that life doesn't imitate art again. Here, though, it's life and art Woody Allen style!
By the time MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY was released, the world and the press was still reeling from the crazed family scandal between Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon Yi-Previn. Fans were faced with having to simply forget their personal woes over the man and his immoral actions in life and embrace the art as it was and give it its fair shot. The film may certainly come off as no more than a dated detective story, but it manages to achieve a rather gentle, nostalgic grace and a hint of un-self-conscious wisdom in its story and performance. One could also claim that Allen and Keaton are essentially playing ANNIE HALL's characters of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall gone middle-aged many years later. Well, even if such a claim is true, in my opinion, it's still an on-screen chemistry that's absolutely priceless, no matter what the interpretation. I only wish it hadn't ended with this film. Perhaps there's still hope for one more, as long as the two of them are alive and willing!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Larry Lipton (to his wife): "No, no, I forbid you, I forbid you to go! Is...I...I'm forbidding! Is that what you do when I forbid you? If...if that's what you...? I'm not gonna be forbidding you a lot, if you do..."