Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A middle-aged couple suspects foul play when their neighbor's wife suddenly drops dead.

  • Larry and Carol are fairly normal New Yorkers who have sent their son off to college. They meet an elderly couple down the hall and later in the week find that the wife has suddenly died. Carol becomes suspicious of Paul who seems to be too cheerful and too ready to move on. She begins her investigation. Larry insists she is becoming too fixated on their neighbor as all of the irregularities seem to have simple non-homicidal explanations. Ted, a recently divorced friend helps her investigation and Larry begins to become jealous of their relationship and agrees to help her.

  • Middle aged New Yorkers Larry and Carol Lipton's marriage is in an unspoken rut. That rut is highlighted when they formally meet for the first time Paul and Lillian House, long time neighbors approaching their senior years who live on the same floor as them in their upscale Manhattan apartment building. The day after that meeting which included coffee in the Houses' apartment, Larry and Carol learn that Lillian died of coronary heart failure. Spurred on by having just watched Double Indemnity (1944), Carol, based largely on circumstantial evidence, believes that Paul may have murdered Lillian, as he is not bereft enough about her passing, especially as she had not mentioned any health problems in their detailed discussion during coffee the previous evening. Larry, a book editor, believes that Carol's imagination is working overtime, especially as she is currently unemployed, but whose most recent employment thought is to open a restaurant. Carol turns to their recently divorced friend Ted, a writer and a possible partner in the restaurant venture, to be Watson to her Sherlock Holmes in finding out conclusive evidence to her belief, no matter what it takes. Ted, who generally does have more of an adventurous spirit than Larry to match Carol in that respect, is a willing Watson. Larry believes Ted's willingness is because he is interested in Carol sexually. Larry, beyond wanting to set Ted up with Marcia Fox, one of his clients who seems to be interested in Larry himself, has to decide if he should get involved in Carol's investigative work if only to save their marriage. Things change when Carol discovers more and more evidence which points to Paul truly being a murderer, at which time the foursome of Carol, Ted, Larry and Marcia try to pull whatever references they can think of from books and movies to piece together the story and as such gather the necessary evidence, without really realizing that their lives may be in danger if Paul truly is a murderer and finds out they are after him.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Larry Lipton (Woody Allen) and his wife Carol (Diane Keaton), both in their late forties, come back from a hockey game to their apartment in Manhattan, and, in the elevator, they meet their next-door neighbors Paul (Jerry Adler) and Lilian (Lynn Cohen) House, who are both in their sixties, and whom they actually hardly know. Carol and Lilian discover they go to the same gym club, and Lilian invites Larry and Carol for a drink in her apartment. We learn that Larry work in the publishing business, and that Paul owns an old cinema, which is being redone. Carol doesn't work but she would like to open a restaurant. Even though they have been married twenty-eight years, Paul and Lilian don't have any children, but Larry and Carol have a son, who is away in college.

    The next night, Larry and Carol go to a movie theater with their friends Sy (Ron Rifkin) and Marilyn (Joy Behar), to watch Billy Wilder's «Double Indemnity». When they come back home, they find the Houses' door open and a crowd of neighbors gathered around the door. Lilian has just died from a heart attack. Larry and Carol are surprised by this death because Lilian seemed so healthy.

    A couple of days later, on their way to the Met, Larry and Carol meets Paul in the street and Carol finds Paul's cheerfulness slightly suspicious. Later in the evening, in a restaurant, she talks about it with their friends Ted (Alan Alda), Sy and Marilyn. Ted is just divorced, and Larry thinks he is in love with Carol. Carol explains that Lilian House didn't seem to have a heart condition. And Ted says that Paul could have killed her to run off with his «tootsie». But Larry is very doubtful about it, and just thinks that Paul is a strong guy, who tries to hide his true feelings.

    Knowing he likes sweet food, Carol makes floating islands for Paul and bring them to him. While Paul and Larry are talking in the living-room, Carol is making coffee in the kitchen and she finds a funerary urn hidden in a cupboard, seeming to refute Paul's claim that Lilian was buried. Carol becomes even more suspicious later in the night after hearing Paul 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.»

    Knowing that Paul is away, Carol steals a spare key from Jack (William Addy), the super, and sneaks into Paul's apartment. The urn is missing, but she finds two plane tickets to Paris and a reservation for a Paris hotel for Paul and a woman named Helen Moss. From Paul's apartment, she calls Ted to tell him about it, but Paul unexpectedly returns, and Carol hides under the bed. She overhears a telephone conversation between Paul, calling himself Tom, and a woman whom she supposes to be Helen Moss. After Paul's departure, she leaves the apartment but realizes later that she left her eyeglasses in Paul's apartment. When she tells Larry what she's done, he is furious about it.

    Carol makes a chocolate mousse and brings it to Paul so that she can retrieve her glasses, but Paul finds them first, causing Larry and Carol to try awkwardly to explain why the eyeglasses were under his bed.

    Ted finds out where Helen Moss lives. He and Carol sit in his car outside her apartment and when she comes out, they follow her to the old cinema theatre that Paul owns. They hide inside the theatre and find out that Helen Moss (Melanie Norris) is a young, beautiful actress looking for a job. While eavesdropping on Paul and Helen, they hear the couple talking about the money they're going to get from selling the theater. Paul and Helen are interrupted by the arrival of Gladys Dalton (Marge Redmond), Paul's only assistant, who is a middle-aged woman walking with a cane.

    In the middle of the night, while Paul is away, Carol goes back in his apartment, taking a very frightened Larry along with her. She presses the «last number dialed» button on the telephone and someone named «Waldron» answers the phone. Larry inadvertently breaks a statuette in the bedroom, and picking up the debris, Carol finds a suspicious pair of gloves.

    Going out of the restaurant were they have been celebrating their son (Zack Braff) Nick's birthday, Larry and Carol meet Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston), an author and a client of Larry. When Marcia is gone, Larry explains to Carol that he wants to «fix» Marcia with Ted, but Carol doubts it would work.

    Later, Carol meets Ted in a lounge for a wine-tasting party. Ted drinks a bit too much wine and confess to Carol he is in love with her. He goes away and Carol remains seated near the window, looking absently at the street, when, in a bus, she sees a woman that looks very much like the deceased Lilian House. When, back home, she tells Larry about it, Larry answers that she had certainly drunk too much wine. To please Carol, he even suggests that Lilian could have a twin.

    Next day, Carol goes back, with Ted, to the place where she saw the bus. Ted has been investigating and found that Lilian had a sister and a brother, but no twin. A bit further down on the street, they find a «Hotel Waldron», «Waldron» being the name Carol was given when she called the «Last Number Dialed» on Paul's telephone. Ted calls the hotel from a pay-phone, and finds there is no Mrs House and no Miss Moss staying at the hotel.

    Meanwhile, in a empty restaurant, Marcia is giving Larry a poker lesson. While playing, Larry tells Marcia about his feeling that Carol is having an affair with Ted. Marcia tells him he should try to involve himself in Carol's investigation despite having denounced it as foolishness.

    So Larry goes along with Carol to spy on the Waldron Hotel from their car and they see Lilian House entering the hotel. They question the hotel clerk (Aida Turturro) and find that Lilian is staying there under a false name. On the pretense of giving her a birthday present, they go to her room and find her dead on the floor. They rush out of the hotel and call the police, but when, a bit later, the police eventually search the room, they don't find anyone in the room, not even a dead body. Nevertheless, one of the policeman gives his business card to Larry.

    Much later in the evening, Larry and Carol come back to the street near the hotel and, from the street, they see a light in Lilian's room. Using the business card the police officer gave him, Larry pretends to be a policeman. The night clerk (Yanni Sfinias), who has never seen them before, let them go into Lilian's room, which they start searching for clues. And they find Lilian's wedding ring. While leaving the hotel, they get stuck in the elevator, triggering Larry's severe claustrophobia. Carol opens the emergency exit panel to escape and finds Lilian's body hidden on the roof of the elevator cabin. The lights go out, and the elevator rides down to the basement. When they exit in the back street behind the hotel, they see Paul putting a wrapped body in the trunk of his car.

    Carol and Larry follow him out of the city to a junk yard. Paul dumps Lilian's body on a pile of scrap metal, and it is dropped into a melting furnace with the metal. Larry and Carol are helpless and the evidence of murder is destroyed.

    They come back home, and as they reach their building, they see Paul coming out of it, walking slowly because he is accompanied by Gladys Dalton. He says they've been watching Madame Bovary and she confirms his alibi.

    Larry and Carol know that Ted is having diner with Marcia in a restaurant called Vincent's and they decide to meet them there. The four of them discuss the mystery and try to solve it. Larry remembers that, when they came home, the night of Lilian's death, the body was already covered with a sheet and they never actually saw it. Carol is also sure it was Paul they saw cremating his wife's body in the junk yard. Marcia thinks that Paul has committed the perfect murder. And she explains it :

    The night of the murder, they had a guest, who looked a bit like Lilian, and this guest had a heart attack. After her death, Lilian dressed her with her own clothes, and then hid somewhere in the apartment, while Paul was waiting for the doctor. When the doctor and the paramedics were gone with the body, Lilian went to the Waldron hotel under a false name. But Paul had been cheating on his wife with Helen Moss for a long time, and he decided to double-cross her and kill her, taking her share of the profits. Gladys Dalton is in love with Paul and she lied both to the police about Paul being working with her while he was killing his wife in the hotel, and to Larry and Carol about Paul watching Madame Bovary with her while he was cremating his wife in the junk yard.

    Carol gets a bit jealous of Marcia getting all the attention from both Larry and Ted, because of her brilliant explanation of the mystery, so acrimoniously she says Marcia has no proof about Paul being the murderer. But Marcia answers she has a plan to make Paul confess the murder.

    Ted owns a theater and Marcia, Larry, Carol, Ted, Sy and Marilyn use it to stage a fake audition, to which they ask Helen Moss to come. They tape-record the whole audition, and then Sy edits the tape, changing the sentences Helen said to fit in the fake dialogue they need to trap Paul. To be sure Helen won't be with Paul when they call him, Ted meets Helen in a bar to talk to her about the stage play he supposedly wants her to be part of.

    Meanwhile in Sy and Marilyn's apartment, Carol, Larry, Sy and Marilyn each have a small tape machine which they play in turn to give Paul, whom they are calling, the impression that he is actually getting a call from Helen. Helen's faked call suggests that «his neighbors» have his wife's body and that they want $200,000 for it. Either he pays them or he kills them. Marcia believes that Paul will try to kill them, and the police can then catch him in the attempt.

    After the call, Paul meets Gladys outside his office in the movie theatre. Seeing him worried, she tells him she is always available if he needs help, but he gets mad at her and tells her to stop interfering with his business.

    Meanwhile, in the street outside Sy and Marilyn's building, Carol is getting mad at Larry, whom she accuses of being in love with Marcia. She eventually tells him she feels like being alone for a while and she walks away.

    A bit later, as scheduled by Marcia, Larry calls Paul from a pay phone, telling him he has a «package» that is going to cost him $200,000. But what he doesn't know is that Paul has kidnapped Carol. And Paul answers that he also has a package for him, and, to prove it, he gets Carol on the phone. He then asks Paul to bring Lilian's body to the movie theater.

    Larry goes to the theater with a dummy in the trunk of his car. When he sees it, Paul gets mad and the two men start fighting on the parking lot of the theatre, but Larry breaks away from Paul and rushes into the theatre. He starts searching for Carol, but becomes disoriented by an array of mirrors behind the theater screen, mirrors which are reflecting the movie being played (Orson Welles's «The Lady from Shanghai»). Paul stalks him with his gun in hand, but he is shot by Gladys, who doesn't want Paul to drop her for Helen. Meanwhile, Larry rescues Carol and they call the police. They're both in love with each other again.

    Later, Marcia explains to Ted what exactly happened. The dead body in the apartment was Lilian's rich sister, who bore a strong resemblance with Lilian. The sister had a heart attack while having dinner with them, and the Houses took advantage of the situation. Lilian ran away from the apartment to hide at the hotel Waldron under a false name while Paul was showing the doctor his dead «wife». Pretending to be her sister, Lilian changed her sister's will naming Lilian and Paul as her sole beneficiaries. But Paul double-crossed her, killed her and cremated her, so he could run off with Helen. Gladys covered for him, because she was in love with him, but without knowing he actually was a murderer.

    Marcia and Ted are starting a romantic relation, and Larry and Carol are acting as a couple of young lovers !

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