Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Ridiculous, hopelessly predictable, and a whole lot of fun, that's how I describe seeing Woody Allen's 1979 film Manhattan at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences screening room on Monday night. I have seen it, what, maybe 20 times? But I still can't get enough of it. Just the opening alone - those sensational black and white pictures of late-1970s Manhattan paired with the music of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue - are easily worth the price of admission, which, in this case, was ten whole dollars, five for me and five for Karen. But, hey, like I said, the opening alone makes it worthwhile. And then you've got all those great scenes with a young and gorgeous Meryl Streep and the witty repartee between Woody and Diane. And Wallace Shawn as Diane's former "devastating lover." And that final look on Woody's face when he is imploring his 17-year old girlfriend played by Mariel Hemingway not to go away and study in London. The only thing in movies comparable to that look, in my humble opinion, is the expression on Chaplin's face at the end of City Lights when the blind girl whose sight has been restored realizes through touching his hand that it was Charlie, now completely down on his luck, who found the way to pay for her operation.

But for our five bucks, it wasn't just the movie we got to see. We also witnessed a Q and A with the often forgotten but memorable other male lead in that film - Michael Murphy. Murphy did a lot during this period - Unmarried Woman, the Front (a comedy about the blacklist that included Zero Mostel playing the one tragic figure in the film - Hecky Brown), Nashville, and then later that HBO series called Tanner
'88 about a politician, written by Garry Trudeau and directed, like Nashville, by Robert Altman. I would say it's fair to conclude that as an actor, Murphy has had a pretty distinguished career. It was fun to hear him talk about Manhattan.

Murphy was cheerful and open and happily took many questions. One of the things he volunteered was how much Woody was enjoying Manhattan at that point and how inclined he was to go out on nights on the town with Murphy. Woody was still a director of few words and always critical of his own work, but he seemed happier, more normal, more of an everyday guy to Murphy at this point in his life. Murphy also shared that once shooting on Manhattan was completed, Woody disliked it so much he offered to buy it back from United Artists and do another film for them for free. Everyone agreed it was fortunate this didn't happen. After thirty years, Manhattan has become an American classic and probably the greatest film about New York ever made.


  1. Michael Murphy is a wonderful character actor, how great to hear his take on 'Manhattan'. I have a memory of Murphy in 'An Unmarried Woman' in the scene where he tells Jill Clayburg that he's fallen in love with someone else. They are sitting at a lunch counter in Manhattan and he tells her that he 'went into Bloomingdales to buy a shirt, for God's sake' when he met his new love. Something about this scene, its 'it can happen to anyone anytime' quality, really rang true for me.

  2. Funny you should mention that scene, db, that hit a lot of people in a similar way. Murphy referred to it specifically and said that it made both men and women dislike him in equal measure.