• Manhattan Murder Mystery

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: February 20, 2018
    Director: Woody Allen
    Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Adler, Lynn Cohen, Ron Rifkin, Joy Behar
    Year: 1993
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Woody Allen’s 1993 comic thriller Manhattan Murder Mystery began life as the integral plotline running through the fabled original cut of his Oscar-winning smash Annie Hall. When he decided to cut that material from the film in order to focus on the love story which he knew worked best, Allen kept the discarded story in mind for reviving as a future project. He initially conceived of Mystery as a co-starring vehicle with his longtime lover and muse Mia Farrow, but when their relationship came to a shocking end under controversial circumstances, Allen replaced her with Annie Hall herself, the amazing Diane Keaton, and the film was finally able to move forward.

    I must confess upfront to never having been a fan of Allen and his films. I’ve enjoyed a few of them – most of all his screwball futuristic farce Sleeper – but his filmography will mostly remain unseen by my eyes. He would hardly be the first director to rarely venture outside of his comfort zone, and I respect that even though it’s a zone that makes me bored to tears if I took more than one trip within its confines every decade. In his comedic prime, the unassuming Allen was a major force to be reckoned with, but the box office and awards glory that Annie Hall bathed in during the waning years of the 1970’s apparently granted him license to make the movies he always wanted. You know, the ones where he plays a never-ending stream of cultured, neurotic schmucks who never fail to attract beautiful women more than half his age.

    Mystery thankfully found Allen fraternizing with co-stars firmly in his age group or in a slightly higher one, which must have been very difficult for him to do. At no point during the story does his latest variation on the insecure nebbish he has played his entire career manage to hook up with a fawning coed college student who thinks he’s absolutely irresistible. I was quite shocked by this development. Allen tapped his Sleeper/Annie Hall co-writer Marshall Brickman to help him flesh his story ideas out further and shape them into something he could pass off as his latest film. Brickman was one of the director’s finest collaborators, and together they made an entertaining little flick that could be considered mid-level Allen, nowhere nearly as good as his best works, but far better than the self-indulgent garbage that has come to define his more recent output.

    In Manhattan Murder Mystery, Allen plays Larry Lipton, a book editor comfortably married for many years to aspiring restauranteur Carol, naturally played by Keaton. They live in a pleasant New York apartment, have a son (future Scrubs star Zack Braff, in his feature film debut) grown up and attending college, and often spend their evenings taking in the city’s vibrant cultural scene and having overlapping conversations about every subject imaginable. This being a Woody Allen joint, you just know that the names of select European philosophers and dictators will find their way into those talks in some manner.

    One evening, the Liptons return to their building to discover their friendly neighbor Lillian House (Lynn Cohen) has unexpectedly died of a heart attack. They had just spent some time getting to know her and her husband Paul (Jerry Adler), who doesn’t seem very broken up about her passing, the night before. Paul’s seeming lack of remorse spurs Carol into suspecting that the actual cause of Lillian’s death was foul play, and she decides to conduct an amateur investigation of the possible crime against Larry’s inevitable objections. There wouldn’t really be a movie if Carol’s instincts turned out to be a fool’s intuition, and the clues she uncovers lead to the unraveling of a murder plot far more diabolical and complicated than either she or her husband could ever imagine.

    Since Larry is initially reluctant to join in her sleuthing, Carol finds a willing partner in their close friend Ted (Alan Alda), for whom the Liptons have been unsuccessfully trying to make a love connection during their downtime. There is an implication of infidelity in Carol and Ted’s relationship that is cleverly mirrored by the company Larry seeks with his friend and client Marcia (Anjelica Huston) because of his wife’s newfound obsession with Lillian’s possible murder, but this B plot is graciously sidelined for the most part in order to keep the focus on the central storyline. Allen and Brickman’s penchant for witty dialogue that builds character at the same enlightening and amusing the audience helps to keep the narrative moving and fun without pausing just long enough to call attention to its inherent absurdity. Though we’re never permitted to be emotionally invested with the Liptons’ potentially dangerous adventure, the warm and loving chemistry shared by Allen and Keaton make them relatable leads to follow through the twisty series of increasingly strange events.

    Allen’s usual filmmaking style of staging extended dialogue scenes that feel improvised and following his characters around the city via the handheld cinematography of Carlo Di Palma (who shot many features for Allen but is perhaps best-known for his work on Michelangelo Antonioni’s hypnotic thriller masterpiece Blow-Up) is smartly discarded for a bravura finale set inside an old movie house screening the Orson Welles classic The Lady from Shanghai. It’s here that the mystery Carol pursued and dragged along Larry for the ride is wrapped up in a fashion only violent enough to earn the film a safe PG rating. Allen livens up the proceedings with another fine soundtrack assembled out of jazz and classical favorites and supports himself and Keaton through some wise choices in the supporting cast, including welcome turns from Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Adler, Zack Braff, Ron Rifkin, Joy Behar, Lynn Cohen, Aida Turturro, Frank Pellegrino, and Wendell Pierce.


    Twilight Time’s 1080p high-definition transfer of Manhattan Murder Mystery is presented in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is a fine upgrade from previous DVD editions, but ultimately little else. Since the film mostly takes place in apartments and restaurants and on modestly occupied city streets, opportunities for dynamic visuals are severely limited. The color timing is warm and authentic, while healthy texture is visibly apparent in the characters’ clothing and the set design. For such a visually undemanding film, this is the best we can get from its HD bow.

    Mystery was released theatrically with a Dolby Spectral Recording mono soundtrack, which the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track performs admirably in replicating for home viewing. The overlapping dialogue and wall-to-wall selection of jazz and classical pieces are the primary benefactors of the mix as both are granted balanced volume levels and presented free of unnecessary background noise and audio distortion. English subtitles have also been provided.

    Extras are limited to an isolated DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 music and effects track, the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes), and liner notes written by Julie Kirgo.

    The Final Word:

    Manhattan Murder Mystery is a fun, frothy little mash-up of thoughtful comedy and organic suspense assuredly directed by Woody Allen from the crafty script he penned with Marshall Brickman. Solid performances from Allen and Diane Keaton help sell the less believable aspects of the story, which has the occasional surprising twist. Home video editions of Allen films may always suffer in the extras department, but at least the high-definition transfer on this Twilight Time Blu-ray ensures this lesser entry in the filmmaker’s career looks better than it has since its theatrical premiere.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Woody is hilarious in this.