“I can’t listen to too much Wagner. It makes me want to conquer Poland.”
Manhattan Murder Mystery, a 1993 film from Woody Allen, is one of the titles I tend to forget when I recall this director’s impressive list of films. While it’s not as profound as many other of Allen’s films, it’s definitely very good and very, very funny.
The film, set in Manhattan, of course, begins with husband and wife Larry and Carol Lipton (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) coming back to their apartment building and running into some neighbours, Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen). While Larry was looking forward to watching an old Bob Hope film, Carol drags him back to the neighbours’ apartment for coffee and a late night chat. The next few boring hours are spent with the Houses discussing their exercise equipment and Paul House’s stamp collection.
This seemingly uneventful evening becomes strangely significant when Lillian House dies of a heart attack shortly afterwards. Carol’s suspicions are aroused by the fact that Lillian never mentioned heart problems when discussing her exercise equipment, and her low-grade doubt is flamed into action when Carol sees the new widower, Paul. In Carol’s opinion, he’s just too happy, and so much to Larry’s dismay and discomfort, Carol begins to “investigate.”
Since Larry won’t cooperate with Carol’s intense interest in Paul and the possible murder of Lillian, Carol turns to old flame, playwright, Ted Alan Alda). Not only does Ted encourage and participate in Carol’s investigation but he also becomes involved in her long-held dream of opening a restaurant.
Meanwhile Larry begins to confide in a sexy and somewhat obnoxious author, Marcia Fox (Anjelica Houston), and when she advises him to pay more attention to Carol, Larry finds himself on a stakeout.
On one level, Manhattan Murder Mystery is the story about whether or not a murder has been committed, but on another level, there’s a moral to the tale. Larry was very reluctant to meet the neighbours because, after all, meeting neighbours leads to relationships which can often be messy. Larry’s worst fears begin to come true–not only is it possible that he’s living next to a murderer, but he gets mixed up in the possible crime. But even worse than that is the idea that he may lose his wife to someone willing to listen to her theories.
The film presents a world that Woody Allen is extremely familiar with, and it’s a world of affluent intellectuals who discuss their lives and their problems with their shrinks, but it’s also a world in which people may have a little too much time on their hands. Are Carol’s suspicions correct or is she just letting her imagination run wild? Is Paul a murderer or he is just “this guy who gets his jollies licking the back of postage stamps”?
Many of the film’s hilarious scenes allow full scope for Larry’s neuroticism and anxiety as he finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into a very uncomfortable situation. He should have stayed home and watched that Bob Hope film. Manhattan Murder Mystery concludes with a homage to Lady from Shanghai.
“Not everyone is up at 1 am watching the porn channel.”
“Claustrophobia and a dead body: A neurotic’s nightmare.”
“I like this woman. She’s lurid.”
“I can’t bluff or lie without giggling.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be cured with a little prozac and a polo mallet.”