Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
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It’s 1993. Mia Farrow and Woody Allen have split amid controversy involving his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Left without a leading lady, Allen turns to (who else?) Diane Keaton. What follows is a reunion of two kindred talents that tackles both marital problems and crime fiction with an endearing wit.
For many, Carol and Larry are essentially the older Alvie and Annie from Annie Hall – indeed, the script for the former started with the latter – and the world-weary couple match like a pair of old shoes, right down to the leather wrinkles. But something in their married life sticks out like a sore thumb: their neighbour, the brilliantly named Mr. House. One day, they see him carry his wife’s dead body out of the flat. He says it was a heart attack, but Carol is convinced otherwise.
Running around like a crazed Miss Marple, Carol dominates the screen, pushing her nose into everyone’s business until she can prove her suspicions. An exasperated Larry tries to assert his manly authority and take charge of the situation. “I’m your husband, I’m commanding you to sleep,” he squawks. “Sleep! I command it!”
It’s a neat subversion of gumshoe conventions that Allen is toying with – the ending shootout, for example, is a play upon the climax of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai. Her brain warped by noir expectations, Carol’s obsession leads to Rear Window-esque snooping around their neighbours’ homes and a ludicrous attempt at a blackmailing phone call.
Why is Carol so fascinated by Mr. House? Is it a way to keep her and Larry’s relationship going? “This is the most exciting thing that’s happened in our marriage,” she observes at one point. Or is it an inherent part of living in a Manhattan apartment block? Boxed in by other people’s lives, stacked against secrets, the cramped city life is a hive of potential serial killers.
For Larry, this isn’t a problem. “New York is a melting pot! I’m used to it!” he cries. He enjoys living there, murderer or no murderer. The same seems true of Alan Alda’s best friend and Angelica Huston’s eager onlooker.
14 years on from Manhattan, Allen’s Murder Mystery marks a string of crowd-pleasing partnerships. Firstly, between the director and his leading lady. Secondly, between the author and his co-writer Marshall Brickman. But mostly, between Woody and his titular home town. Whether the city is informing his plot, influencing his characters, inspiring his visuals or defining his relationships, Allen really does have a thing for Manhattan. He opens with a swooping helicopter shot over the skyline, a colourful prologue that drowns out the monochrome fireworks of his earlier masterpiece. A loud lounge singer bellows: “I happen to love New York!” And he doesn’t care if the neighbours hear it.