Manhattan Murder Mystery

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Manhattan Murder Mystery
Theatrical poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Written by Woody Allen
Marshall Brickman
Starring Woody Allen
Diane Keaton
Anjelica Huston
Alan Alda
Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
Edited by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • August 18, 1993 (1993-08-18)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13.5 million (est.)
Box office $11,285,588 (USA)

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is a comedy murder mystery film, directed by and starring Woody Allen and written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman.


Larry Lipton (Woody Allen) and his wife Carol (Diane Keaton) meet their older neighbors Paul (Jerry Adler) and Lilian (Lynn Cohen) House in the elevator. They go to the Houses' apartment for coffee, as Carol and Lillian have a shared interest in fitness. The next night, Larry and Carol find the Houses' door open and a crowd forming in the hallway. Lilian has died of a heart attack. The Liptons are surprised by the death because Lilian seemed so healthy.

A couple of days later, Carol notes Paul's cheerfulness and thinks his behavior is suspicious. Inventing a social excuse to visit him, she finds a funerary urn hidden in a cupboard, seeming to refute Paul's claim that Lilian was buried. Carol becomes more suspicious after hearing him leave his apartment at 1:00 a.m. She thinks that he left to dispose of the urn, but Larry tells Carol she's "inventing a mystery."

Carol steals a spare key and sneaks into Paul's apartment while he is away. The urn is missing, and she finds two tickets to Paris and a reservation for a Paris hotel with a woman named Helen Moss. From Paul's aparment, she calls Ted (Alan Alda), a friend of Larry and Carol's who is equally interested in the "mystery". Paul returns, and Carol hides under the bed. She overhears a conversation between Paul and a woman whom she supposes is Helen Moss. She escapes but realizes later that she left her eyeglasses in Paul's apartment. She invents another excuse to visit Paul socially so that she can retrieve her glasses, but Paul finds them first, causing Larry and Carol to try to explain why the eyeglasses were under his bed.

Ted finds out where Helen Moss lives. He and Carol sit in his car outside of her apartment and when she comes out, they follow her to a theater that Paul owns. They find out that Helen Moss (Melanie Norris) is a young, beautiful actress. While eavesdropping on Paul and Helen, they hear the couple talking about money.

Later, Carol sees Lilian House riding the bus. Larry suggests that Lilian must have a twin. Ted investigates and finds that Lilian had a sister and a brother, but no twin. Larry becomes jealous of Carol and Ted's relationship, so he involves himself in Carol's investigation despite having denounced it as foolishness.

Larry and Carol see Lilian enter a hotel and find that Lilian is living there under a fake name. On the pretense of delivering a personal gift, they enter her hotel room and find her dead on the bedroom floor. They leave to call the police, but the police find no body. The Liptons return later to search the room for clues and they find Lilian's wedding ring. They get stuck in the elevator while leaving, triggering Larry's severe claustrophobia. Carol opens the emergency exit panel to escape and finds Lilian's body. The lights go out, and the elevator goes down to the basement. When they exit to the street, they see Mr. House put a body in his trunk of his car.

The Liptons follow him out of the city to a junk yard. The man dumps the body in a pile of scrap metal, and it is dropped into a melting furnace with the metal. The Liptons realize the man is Paul, who is now aware that they are following him. Larry and Carol are helpless and the evidence of murder is destroyed.

Larry, Carol and Ted discuss the mystery with Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston), a client and friend of Larry's (he's a book editor at Harper's). Marcia says that Paul has committed the perfect murder and advises Carol and Larry how to catch him. They plan to get Helen to audition for a fake production, tape record her audition, and edit her speech into a fake phone call claiming that Carol and Larry recovered Lilian's body and are blackmailing Paul. Helen's faked speech will suggest that he can give them $200,000 or kill them. Marcia believes that Paul will try to kill them, and the police can then catch him in the attempt.

The plan goes relatively well until after the phone call. Carol accuses Larry of being attracted to Marcia, and Larry expresses the same concern about Carol and Ted. Carol asks to be alone and heads home. Paul kidnaps Carol and takes her to his theater. He calls Larry and threatens to kill Carol unless Larry brings Lilian's body. Larry goes to rescue Carol empty handed. Paul and Larry briefly fight. Larry breaks away and searches for Carol, but becomes disoriented by an array of mirrors and glass behind the theater screen reflecting the movie being played (Orson Welles's The Lady from Shanghai). Paul stalks him with a gun, but Paul is shot by his assistant, an older paramour whom he abandoned for Helen. Larry rescues Carol and they call the police.

Later, Marcia explains to Ted what happened. The dead body in the apartment was Lilian's rich sister, who bore a strong resemblance to Lilian but was not her twin. The sister had a heart attack while visiting them, and the Houses took advantage of the situation. Lilian hid under a false name at the hotel and Paul called the police and claimed his wife died. Pretending to be her sister, Lilian changed her sister's will naming Lilian and Paul as her sole beneficiaries. Paul then double-crossed and killed her, so he could run off with Helen.



The screenplay for Manhattan Murder Mystery started out as an early draft of Annie Hall, but Woody Allen did not feel that it was substantial enough, and he decided to go in a different direction.[1] He had put off making the film for years because he felt it was too lightweight, "like an airplane book read".[2] Allen decided to revisit the material in the early 1990s. He contacted Marshall Brickman, who co-wrote Annie Hall, and they worked on the story some more.[3] The role of Carol was originally written for Mia Farrow, but the part was recast when she and Allen ended their relationship and became embroiled in a custody battle over their three children.[4] Allegations in the media claimed that changes were made to the film in what was "definitely a reaction" to Allen's relationship problems, including the casting of Anjelica Huston as "a much younger first time novelist" with whom Allen's character became romantically involved (Huston was 41 during production).[5]

In the fall of 1992, Allen called Diane Keaton and asked her to fill in for Farrow, and she immediately accepted.[2] When asked if he had re-written the script to fit Keaton's talents, Allen said, "No, I couldn't do that. In a regular script I would have done that upon hiring Diane Keaton. But I couldn't [here] because it's a murder mystery, and it's very tightly plotted, so it's very hard to make big changes... I had written [the part] more to what Mia likes to do. Mia likes to do funny things, but she's not as broad a comedian as Diane is. So Diane made this part funnier than I wrote it."[6]

Making the film was a form of escape for Allen because the "past year was so exhausting that I wanted to just indulge myself in something I could relax and enjoy".[1] He also found it very therapeutic working with Keaton again. After getting over her initial panic in her first scene with Alan Alda, Keaton and Allen slipped back into their old rhythm.[2] After she had trouble with that scene, Allen decided to re-shoot it. In the meantime, she worked with her acting coach and did other scenes that went well.[7] According to Allen, Keaton changed the dynamic of the film because he "always look(s) sober and normal compared to Keaton. I turn into the straight man". Huston said that the set was "oddly free of anxiety, introspection and pain", and this was due to Keaton's presence.[2]

The film was shot in the fall of 1992 on the streets of Greenwich Village, the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side. Allen had cinematographer Carlo Di Palma rely on hand-held cameras, "swiveling restlessly from one room to another, or zooming in abruptly for a close look " in a style one reviewer called "meaningless affectation."[8]

Larry and Carol Lipton's apartment is at 200 East 78th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenue[4] and between two groups of New York City Designated Landmarks, east of one group of rowhouses and west of another group. Allen staged a climactic shoot-out in a roomful of mirrors that, according to Allen, referenced a similar shoot-out in Orson Welles' film, The Lady from Shanghai.[9]

This was Allen's second and final film with TriStar Pictures, and it was speculated in the press that this deal was not extended because of the filmmaker's personal problems, or that his films were not very profitable. Allen, however, denied these allegations in interviews at the time.[1] Zach Braff made his feature film debut in a one-scene role as the son of Allen and Keaton's characters; Braff later said, "When I look at that scene now, all I can see is the terror in my eyes".[10]


Manhattan Murder Mystery opened on August 18, 1993 in 268 theaters and made USD $2 million in its opening weekend. It went on to gross $11.3 million in North America, below its estimated $13.5 million budget.[11] Its £1,920,825 in box office made it the number-one film in the United Kingdom for the weekend ending January 23, 1994.

In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "On screen, Keaton and Allen have always been made for each other: they still strike wonderfully ditsy sparks".[12] USA Today gave the film four out of four stars, and advised fans to forget Allen's tabloid woes because "there's a better reason why Allen fans should give it a shot. It's very, very funny, and there's no mystery about that".[13] Janet Maslin called it a "dated detective story" but also wrote, "it achieves a gentle, nostalgic grace and a hint of un-self-conscious wisdom".[8] Desson Howe, in The Washington Post, complained that there was "little 'new' in this film. Allen and Keaton are essentially playing Alvy Singer and Annie Hall gone middle-aged".[14]

The film holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 24 positive out of 26 reviews.[15]



  1. ^ a b c Fine, Marshall (August 18, 1993). "Woody's Take". USA Today. 
  2. ^ a b c d Dowd, Maureen (August 15, 1993). "Diane and Woody, Still a Fun Couple". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-28. 
  3. ^ De Curtis, Anthony (September 5, 1993). "What's With Woody?". Toronto Star. 
  4. ^ a b Span, Paula (May 4, 1993). "Here Comes the Judgment". Washington Post. 
  5. ^ "Pop Culture News: Yet Another Woman". Entertainment Weekly. 1992-10-02. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  6. ^ Bjorkman, Stig (2004). "Woody Allen on Woody Allen: Revised Edition". Faber and Faber. 
  7. ^ Green, Tom (August 24, 1993). "There's No Mystery to Keaton's Relation to Woody". USA Today. 
  8. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (August 18, 1993). "Allen and Keaton, Together Again And Dizzy as Ever". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-28. 
  9. ^ Pendreigh, Brian (September 6, 1993). "A New York Story". The Scotsman. 
  10. ^ "Breakouts: Best Rx". by Bruce Fretts, Entertainment Weekly. 2001-12-21. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  11. ^ "Manhattan Murder Mystery". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  12. ^ Ansen, David (August 30, 1993). "Play It Again, Woody". Newsweek. 
  13. ^ Clark, Mike (August 18, 1993). "Allen's Murder Mystery: Hedunit Brilliantly". USA Today. 
  14. ^ Howe, Desson (August 20, 1993). "Allen's Marital Mystery Cure". Washington Post. 
  15. ^ Manhattan Murder Mystery at Rotten Tomatoes

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