All Time Classics: Manhattan. 1979

Manhattan

Manhattan.

Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway.

Writers: Marshall Brickman, Woody Allen

Director: Woody Allen

Many have stated before that Woody Allen directs the same movie over and over again.  This is both true and false.  Yes it is true that he usually casts himself in the same type of roles.  His usually neurotic nervous persona has been a shtick of his ever since his stand up days, and it’s just a part of his personality.  If he tried to do anything else it would seem weird and out-of-place.  The part where  it become false is to say that each one of his movies are exactly the same.   Compare “Purple Rose of Cairo” to “Midnight in Paris“.  Both involve characters going into other dimensions but both have way different results.  We could also  include two of his dramas with “Crimes and misdemeanors” and “Match Point” because both feature characters who refuse to feel guilty about the crimes they have  committed.    After the success of “Annie Hall” Mr Allen decided for his next project he would do a more serious drama. “Interiors” went on to be nominated for 5 Academy Awards, but many of his fans wanted another comedy like before.   So when himself and Marshall Brickman(co writer on “Annie Hall“) got together, many thought they would be getting another movie similar to that other one, but instead they got something completely different and also  something really wonderful .

Right from the first frame this movie is different from other Allen movies.  It doesn’t have the white credits over a black screen while some obscure jazz song play on the soundtrack.  Instead we get a  beautiful panoramic view of New York City while a great classical score from George Gershwin blends well with various shots of the city.  It’s use of black and white cinematography was simply beautiful and the monologue that Allen himself delivers about the city is a love letter in itself alone.  That whole sequence could very well be its own short film by itself and be considered a classic as well.  I wonder if travel agents back in the late 70’s used that clip to try to get more people to come visit New York City, because  whenever I see it I want to go.    Watch below to see what I mean, because words can’t describe how really beautiful this scene is.

After the opening we meet our four out of five main characters.  There is Yale(Michael Murphy) and his wife Emily(Anne Byrne)  who are having drinks with their friend Issac(Woody Allen) and his girlfriend Tracy(Mariel Hemingway).  There is quite the age difference between Issac and Tracy because she is 17 and he is 42.  Yes this is kind of creepy but if you are fine with Hugh Hefner fucking girls who are only slightly older while he is in his late 80’s I really don’t see what much there is to complain about with this relationship.   Later on that night Yale admits to Issac that he has been secretly having an affair with another woman named Mary(Diane Keaton).  When Issac finally meets her there is obvious tension because the two, but  that tension quickly dissolves when they both meet again later on.    While Yale’s relationship with Mary deteriorates more and more.  Isaac’s relationship with her because more and more serious.  Now he has to make a choice.  Should he stay with Tracy who despite her age is way less screwed up than many of the other  women he has known in his life or should he take a chance on Mary.  I should mention too that his ex-wife Jill(Meryl Streep) has left him for another women and is writing a book about their marriage.

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I first saw this when I was in may early 20’s and, it was a disappointment for me. Not as majorly as “Curse of The Jade Scorpion” but with it being as highly regarded as it was I expected something more is all.  It wasn’t until years later when I started to see bits and pieces of the relationships these characters had were somewhat similar to the ones myself and a few friends were having.  I knew friends who have had affairs and at one time I was dating a much younger woman.   But that really wasn’t the main point of this story.  To me  it was more about how these people get into these sort of relationships without really thinking them over.  Not counting Tracy who I have stated earlier is really the more level-headed one of the group.  Each of  these characters (especially the men )belive they are in love  but they rarely stop to think if this is a good idea or not.  They are acting purely on emotion and that is what basically drives all relationships from the very start.  It’s only after we begin dating someone for a long time that any of us can see an actually future with that other person.  I could be far off with this assumption, but it’s one that I very much believe as of right now.  In another five years, I may have very considerable differences to share.

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All of the roles in this are top-notch and there are a lot of brilliant lines from Woody Allen that could be put in a book of best lines from movies ever.  My favorite one is when Issac and Tracy are in a horse-drawn carriage and he says to her(I’m paraphrasing by the way).

“You are God’s answer to Job.  You would have solved all arguments between them.  God would say, Yes I do a lot of bad things, but I can also make one of these”.

That is such a great line and I hope I get a chance to use that someday.  On top of the great dialogue we have beautiful black and white  cinematography from Gordon Willis and the 2:35 aspect ratio really helps show all of New York City in all of its glory.   I still consider “Annie Hall” and “Match Point” to be my personal favorites of Allen’s filmography, but “Manhattan” is more deserving to be  on the  All Time Classics spot then those other ones.

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Want more Woody Allen. Check out this great post I wrote for The Cinematic Katzenjammer.

Pick 6: Best Woody Allen Movies That Don’t Have Woody Allen In Them

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About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcasts The Film Pasture, ScreenTrax, and soon Cinema Recall. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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6 Responses to All Time Classics: Manhattan. 1979

  1. ninvoid99 says:

    This is definitely one of Woody Allen’s quintessential films. In fact, I will be doing a summer of Woody Allen by watching the films that I haven’t seen from him along with some films I’ve seen him do but haven’t reviewed as part of my 4-part Auteurs series on Allen for the entire summer.

  2. filmhipster says:

    Brilliant film…one of my favorite Allen pieces.

    • The Vern says:

      I’m in agreement with Dan in that it is not my favorite Allen movie but it is one that I highly respect each time I watch it. I wish I could see this one in a real movie theatre again. Thanks for the comments

  3. Dan Heaton says:

    Nice job, Vern. I was also a bit underwhelmed when I originally saw Manhattan a while back. I revisited it last fall for a podcast and enjoyed it a lot more. It’s possibly his most impressive visual film, and there are so many great scenes. It’s still not my favorite Allen film, but it’s definitely moved into the top group.

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