Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine coming to theaters, we look back on the Woodman’s most undervalued movies.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Woody Allen wrote Manhattan Murder Mystery thinking Mia Farrow would play his wife, but then the whole Soon-Yi Previn thing happened, Farrow bolted, and Diane Keaton was brought on to replace her. Keaton hadn’t worked with Allen since Manhattan in 1979 (except to do a fleeting cameo in Radio Days), but you’d never know it based on their chemistry here. As Carol and Larry Lipton, they’re essentially Annie Hall and Alvy Singer as an old married couple, and there’s something instantly heartening about their comfortable, easy banter. It’s like an alternate future in which love triumphed and turned to wedded bliss.
Not that all is perfect in the Lipton household. When the film begins, Keaton is restless and a bit bored with her happy life. So when an elderly woman in the apartment next door dies under mildly suspicious circumstances, she welcomes the chance to play amateur sleuth. She’s sure the woman’s husband (Jerry Adler) killed her to collect the inheritance; Allen, meanwhile, thinks Keaton is letting her imagination run away with her. (“Save a bit of craziness for menopause,” he pleads.) Allen also worries that Keaton is falling for mutual friend Alan Alda, a charming divorcé who jumps at the chance to play Hardy Boy to her Nancy Drew. The film’s romantic geometry is completed by Anjelica Huston, a glamorous mystery novelist who commandeers Keaton’s investigation and, in the process, turns the heads of both Allen and Alda. (“You’re a very beautiful woman,” Allen casually informs her. “I don’t know about beautiful,” she responds, “but I have enormous sex appeal.”).
Woody has never been particularly great in the story department, but Manhattan Murder Mystery has one of his most satisfyingly worked out plots, both narratively and thematically. The mystery, while entertaining in its own right, proves a perfect vehicle for examining the push-pull dynamic of married life. As Keaton grows more obsessed and alive, Allen responds by getting more cranky and disapproving; like so many couples, they feel almost duty-bound to temper the other, even when doing so leads to friction. Happily, the tone of the movie is too genial for lasting discord, and Keaton and Allen end up happier and more appreciative of what they have. In solving an improbable, movie-ish mystery, the duo come a few steps closer to cracking a real mystery: how to love and live with another person.
Availability: DVD, and rental or purchase from the major digital providers.