Monday, March 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Diane Keaton stars in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993), an entertaining comedic mystery cowritten and directed by Woody Allen.

I've never been a particular fan of Allen's -- and it's a given that with the passage of time, his offscreen life has seemed ever more questionable -- but a handful of his films have connected with me, such as MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011).

More important to me as a viewer, I always enjoy Diane Keaton, who made this film a few years after the delightful BABY BOOM (1987), and it was her presence in the lead of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY which drew me to give it a try. Keaton is front and center in this tale of merry mayhem, backed by Allen, Alan Alda, and Anjelica Huston.

Keaton and Allen play Carol and Larry Lipton, New York empty nesters whose only son is away at college. Larry's a book editor; Carol's a homemaker and gourmet cook who's considering opening a small restaurant.

One evening Carol and Larry meet neighbors who live on the same floor in their apartment building, Paul and Lillian (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen). The next evening Lillian suddenly dies...and almost immediately, for a variety of reasons, Carol suspects that Paul killed his wife.

Larry is baffled by Carol's insistence that their neighbor could be a murderer, though their recently divorced friend Ted (Alda) -- who incidentally has a little crush on Carol -- enthusiastically joins in with her concocting murder theories. Lillian was immediately cremated so there's no corpse for the coroner to investigate, but for a grieving husband Paul seems to be having far too good a time. Carol and Ted get a thrill out of "investigating" Paul, feeling that it's adding some excitement to their lives, even if it all turns out to be entirely innocent.

And then something crazy happens...Carol sees the supposedly "dead" woman go past her on a bus. Now everyone's interested, including Marcia (Huston), a writer Larry has set up with Ted, and after more unexpected events unfold, the foursome come up with a plan to trap Paul, since the police will never believe their wild story, given the lack of physical evidence.

The script by Allen and Marshall Brickman is pretty good, although the last act is too predictable. (Come on, why would Carol go into her apartment alone at that juncture, with the murderer knowing they're on to him?)

More importantly, the cast plays it in an enthused and engaging fashion. Carol is thrilled to have something so unexpected drop into her life and plays P.I. with enthusiasm, including going on stakeouts. A scene where the quartet of mid-lifers sit in a restaurant into the wee hours, putting together murder theories while bemused diners and waiters eavesdrop with puzzlement, is a gem.

It's a light and entertaining movie which never gets very scary, although there's one moment which provoked a pretty good gasp from me. I had a pleasant time watching it.

There's a nice selection of songs on the soundtrack, and evocative "New York in fall" location filming by Carlo Di Palma. The film runs a well-paced hour and 44 minutes.

Parental Advisory: MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY is rated PG for mild language and comic violence.

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY is available on DVD. I watched this version; it's a nice widescreen print, and the disc includes the trailer, which is in rougher shape.

The movie is also available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The minimal extras include an isolated music track and the trailer. I wish a commentary track had also been included, as the Twilight Time discs are beautiful but quite pricey.


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