Woody Allen once described himself as ‘thin but fun,’ and the same could be said for Manhattan Murder Mystery. Light, insubstantial and utterly devoid of the heavier themes Allen has grappled with in most of his recent outings, this confection keeps the chuckles coming.
Aside from his Oed ipus Wrecks episode from New York Stories, this represents Allen’s first flat-out comedy in nearly a decade. In its feather-weight frivolity and disconnection from any recognizable reality, it resembles nothing so much as the goofy backstage murder mellers of the 1930s, complete with vanishing corpses, high society settings, bickering leads and self-consciously theatrical denouement.
Allen and Diane Keaton play Larry and Carol Lipton, a long-married pair whose next-door neighbors are the chatty middle-aged couple Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler, Lynn Cohen). Suddenly, Lillian drops dead of a heart attack, but Carol is suspicious of how cheerful Paul seems afterward and, having just seen Double Indemnity, becomes obsessed with the idea that he actually murdered his wife. It is up to fiction writer Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston) to explain it all to the audience.
Manhattan Murder Mystery is as neurotic a farce as can be imagined, and Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman, together for the first time since the great duo of Annie Hall and Manhattan, have amusingly festooned the plot with an array of topical and psychological concerns. Allen’s typical phobias are on display as prominently as ever.
Keaton nicely handles her sometimes buffoonish central comedic role, but few strenuous demands are placed on the rest of the agreeable cast.