Woody Allen disliked his work in this film so much he offered to direct another film for United Artists for free if they kept Manhattan (1979) on the shelf for good. Allan later reportedly said: "I just thought to myself, 'At this point in my life, if this is the best I can do, they shouldn't give me money to make movies'."
After the success of Annie Hall (1977), which had been Woody Allen's big recent success made directly before his previous film Interiors (1978), United Artists executives told Allen's producers, Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins, to give Allen a message. That was: "From now on, make whatever you want".
The film features the music of George Gershwin including his famous piece, 'Rhapsody in Blue', which has been said to have inspired the movie. In a discussion with 'Silvio Bizio', Woody Allen said that the picture "evolved from the music. I was listening to a record album of overtures from famous George Gershwin shows, and I thought 'This would be a beautiful thing to make a movie in black-and-white, you know, and make a romantic movie".
According to Wikipedia, "The famous bridge shot was done at five in the morning. The production had to bring their own bench, because there were no park benches at the location. The bridge had two sets of necklace lights on a timer controlled by the city. When the sun came up, the bridge lights went off. [Cinematographer Gordon] Willis made arrangements with the city to leave the lights on and that he would let them know when they got the shot. Afterwards, they could be turned off. As they started to shoot the scene, one string of bridge lights went out, and [Woody] Allen was forced to use that take".
According to Jeff Stafford at the TCMDb, "When Manhattan (1979) was first released, there was some criticism leveled at the film for its depiction of a romance between a teenager and a 42-year-old man but several biographical sources have suggested that the relationship had a real-life parallel in Woody Allen's two-year romance with actress Stacey Nelkin (Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), 1983). Reportedly, Allen met Nelkin on the set of Annie Hall (1977) (1977) when she was a mere 17-year-old extra (Her small part ended up on the cutting room floor). Certain aspects of the Isaac-Tracy relationship may also have been inspired by Allen's real-life correspondence with 13-year-old pen pal, Nancy Jo Sales".
While this is Woody Allen's least favorite of the movies he has directed, this was the most commercially successful film of his career. He said years later that he was still in disbelief that he "got away with it".
Manhattan (1979) was the third consecutive Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination in three consecutive years for Woody Allen but on this occasion shared with Marshall Brickman. The previous two Oscar noms were for Interiors (1978) and Annie Hall (1977), Allen winning only one of these, for the latter. For an Oscar, Allen would not be next nominated again for a script until Broadway Danny Rose (1984). From there, he would be nominated for the next three films in three consecutive years amounting to four Oscar screenplay noms in a row.
All music on the movie's soundtrack were pieces of music from composer George Gershwin. The compositions were performed for the film by two orchestras, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Famous Manhattan cultural landmarks and significant locations seen in the movie include Central Park, the Queensboro Bridge, Bloomingdales, Broadway, Madison Avenue, Greenwich Village, Zabar's, Riverview Terrace, Fifth Avenue, the Russian Tea Room, the Hayden Planetarium, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Staten Island Ferry, Sutton Square, Park Avenue, the Temple of Dendur, Elaine's Restaurant, the East Side and the Upper East Side, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art.
In an interview with 'The Reeler', director of photography Gordon Willis said of this film: "After the completion of Annie Hall (1977) we simply proceeded to shoot Manhattan. Woody Allen felt New York should be in black-and-white... we both did. I pushed for anamorphic (widescreen) because I like the graphics.... thought it would be a very good combination for the picture........ Widescreen.... black-and-white. I think we talked about shooting it at lunch one day. We both like the same things..... it was an easy decision".
While talking to Mary in the museum, Isaac (Woody Allen) says that the brain is the most overrated body part. While in Allen's film Sleeper (1973), his character Miles Monroe says that it's his second favorite body part.
Presentations of this film on television (broadcast, cable or home video) required preservation of the widescreen format. This presented a problem in the U.S. since certain F.C.C. technical regulations did not permit a portion of the screen to be left blank as in letterboxing. The problem was solved by making the area above and below the frame gray. The regulations have since been changed and letterboxing with black borders is now permitted.
Isaac (Woody Allen) expresses annoyance with Mary's habit of pronouncing the name 'van Gogh' as rhyming with the word 'Loch' (as in 'Loch Ness') instead of rhyming with 'low'. In actuality, Mary's version is closer to how the Dutch name van Gogh is properly pronounced.
Studio United Artists originally had concerns about letting Woody Allen make a black-and-white picture due to the form's lack of commercial potential but UA executives eventually relented and allowed Allen to make a B&W film.
According to the 'Virgin Film Guide', "The producers petitioned to change the 'R' rating to a 'PG' [for the USA] but were turned down, mostly because of the content concerning the older man [Isaac, Woody Allen] and the teenage girl [Tracy, Mariel Hemingway]".
The name of the dog, a Dachshund, was "Waffles". According to website 'Wienerdogs', "In the movie..."Waffles" [is] a standard smooth Doxie belonging to Diane Keaton...Waffles is seen in the house, being held during a conversation, and taken for a walk during a date".
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickmam), but failed to win either Oscar.