|Daffy detectives. Diane Keaton and Woody Allen|
Like those earlier screwballs, Manhattan Murder Mystery has its classic sequence: Allen, Keaton, and friends (Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston), a quartet of intrepid amateur detectives, concoct a plan to blackmail the suspected killer by playing prerecorded messages on a cassette tape over the phone to simulate an actual conversation. Naturally, the tapes get all jumbled and the “conversation” hits a snag and ends up sounding like gobbledygook. It plays better than it sounds—it’s a sidesplitter. The last scene, too, is delightful—a climactic shootout amid a maze of mirrors and projection screens (it was a mistake, however, for Allen to project The Lady from Shanghai on one of the screens to underscore the idea).
Manhattan Murder Mystery is a plush, snug recliner: you can settle yourself in and have a good time watching Keaton and Allen ham it up and banter inventively—they make marvelous company—while old movie references fly back and forth. Things are close to the spirit of the madcap ’30s here—a lot closer in spirit than Peter Bogdanovich’s nagging, largely witless What’s Up, Doc? (1972) or even several of the 1980s Allen comedies. In Manhattan Murder Mystery, Woody Allen got his groove back.