Uploaded by Andrea Antidormi

stereotypical film genre barriers in Film

Detective Carol Lipton:
Breaking through Stereotypical Detective
Genre Barriers
Andrea Antidormi
ENL – 370
Women in Literature and Film I
July 1st, 2013
Manhattan Murder Mystery is a contemporary detective and comedic film written
and directed by Woody Allen. This film converges a real murder mystery with the comical
tribulations of an archaic marriage, specifically the wife Carol Lipton whose story is
narrated through flaunting the excitement and exhilaration she feels as she attempts to
solve a murder and the frustration she feels because her husband, Larry Lipton, refuses to
participate. The dullness of her marriage is interrupted when the murder happens. “The
murder comes at an opportune time in her life for she is looking for something to do”
(Nichols 168). She soon finds that coming up with different theories and versions about
how the murder took place is a gratifyingly distracting task. “…The film flirts with the idea
that detective work…will put a spark back into the Lipton marriage” (nytimes.com). This
quote supports the notion that Carol feels that if her husband would join her in her
endeavors, they would be able to revive their stagnant marriage. The fact that a woman’s
narrative is central in a detective film is important because it overlooks the stereotypical
ideas of gender roles and allows for an altered perception of a traditional genre, while at
the same time maintaining the original qualities of classic detective films.
Detective and Noir films characteristically focus on male characters exclusively.
However, this film is justly considered “…an affectionate spoofing of noir conventions”
(Spicer 148). One could argue that this film mainly focuses on the story of Larry Lipton;
however, it’s through Carol Lipton’s story of freeing herself from her lackluster marriage by
playing detective that sets up the central idea of the story. “Like Sherlock Holmes, the
principle character, Carol Lipton, longs for something” (Nichols 167). This quote reveals an
equal comparison between characters of the opposite sex. Perhaps it’s because of the fact
that the film is actually just a parody of a noir paired with the modern time period in which
it takes place that we are able to appreciate that the female character’s narrative is
Manhattan Murder Mystery alters generic conventions of detective films by
incorporating comedy. The notion that both types of films can effectively exist together
may seem mystifying, however, Woody Allen states in an interview with Rolling Stone
Magazine Online, “Everything [in the film] works. The romance works. The danger works”
(Decurtis). The fact that Allen is so confident in the way modern conventions work in his
film is proof that a detective film can still be accomplished without using the stereotypical
conventions typically required. Another way in which this film challenges generic
conventions of detective films is by overlooking the obligation of fitting into a detective film
sub-genre. Film critics agree that, “If the detective film is defined by having a protagonist
who functions as a detective-figure, then the detective genre itself can be more readily
separated into sub-genres” (Gates). Because of the comedic feature of it, Manhattan
Murder Mystery does not fit into any detective sub-genres, and therefore revises the generic
conventions of detective films. Allen states of his intentions behind his film, “I’m trying to
use crime to make a larger point. I’m trying to use it for fun” (Decurtis). In this quote, Allen
himself openly reveals his desire to use crime for fun and comedic purposes rather than
shoving his film into preexisting subgenre.
Manhattan Murder Mystery also recaptures generic conventions of detective films.
While Allen effectively uses unique ways to defy the stereotypical detective genre, his film,
“ follows a tradition that is an offshoot of the classic detective story…Sherlock Homes”
(Nichols 166). Nichols closely compares Manhattan Murder Mystery with the stories of
Sherlock Holmes because they both possess traditional detective film qualities. The only
reason she describes it as an “offshoot” is because “…the stories of Sherlock Holmes are not
domestic comedies” (Nichols 166). Another way Manhattan Murder Mystery brings itself
back to the classic detective film is through Carol’s relentless pursuance of the truth. When
one considers detective protagonists it can be implied that they are typically portrayed as
heroic and courageous while they’re incessant when it comes to closing cases. A
contribution of a possible reason for Carol’s obsession with cracking the case is explained,
“This is the way Carol’s mind works. She can’t help it. She was probably raised on Nancy
Drew” (Ebert). Ebert’s notion of Carol not being able to help the way her mind works
indicates that doing detective work may come naturally to her. More evidence that
Manhattan Murder Mystery recovers generic detective film conventions is rationalized,
“Like classic detectives who solve mysteries, Carol and her friend Ted construct a variety of
versions of what might’ve happened” (Nichols 165). This quote supports the argument that
Carol’s detective qualities are, in many ways, strikingly similar to the qualities one would
see in a more traditional detective film.
When comedy and mystery collide, the outcome is often unpredictable. The key to
creating a film that lives up to the standards of Manhattan Murder Mystery would not be an
easy task for any director to pull off. A reviewer of the film exclaims, “[the film] is both a
genuine thriller and a cheeky goof on thrillers” (Glieberman). This quote from a review
touches on the very important concept that balance is essential to the successful
development of such a film.
Ultimately, Manhattan Murder Mystery sends an abundant variety of information
that proves itself to stand out as a brilliantly irreplaceable film. We also knew the entire
time that Carol was tasking herself with something serious and real, but it takes Larry a
while to figure out what it was “…Larry recognizes that he is wrong, that his wife really is
onto a mystery” (Nichols 170). This quote indicates that as he figures out more about
what’s going on, the more he can contribute, thus rekindling their marriage. Clearly solving
a murder together is a fantastic bonding experience with your spouse for the time you
think your marriage is getting timeworn. The impact of having a woman’s narrative being
told through a detective film is strong because it helps to break through the stereotypical
genre barriers. The result is a hybrid film that gives the director a lot of options to do
something unique and traditional at the same time thus creating new opportunities for
great films to be made.
Works Cited
Manhattan Murder Mystery, dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Diane Keaton,
Angelica Houston. Tristar Pictures, 1993. itunes.
Armstrong, Derek. Rev. of Manhattan Murder Mystery, dir. Woody Allen. Allmovie
online. n.d. Web. 29 Jun 2013.
DeCurtis, Anthony. Interview with Woody Allen. Rolling Stone Magazine Online 665.
(1993): 45. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Jun 2013.
Ebert, Roger. Rev. of Manhattan Murder Mystery, dir Woody Allen. Roger Ebert
Online. 18 Aug 1993. Web. 29 Jun 2013.
Gates, Philippa. A Brief History of the Detective Film. Crime Culture. n.d. Web. 29 Jun
Glieberman, Owen. Rev. of Manhattan Murder Mystery, dir. Woody Allen.
Entertainment Weekly Online. 20 Aug 1993. Web. 30 Jun 2013.
Maslin, Janet. Rev. of Manhattan Murder Mystery, dir. Woody Allen. New York Times
Online. 18 Aug 1993. Web. 30 Jun 2013.
Nichols, Mary. Reconstructing Woody: Art, love, and life in the Films of Woody Allen.
Lanhem: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. Print.
Spicer, Andrew. The Historical Dictionary of Film. Lanhem: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Travers, Peter. Rev. of Manhattan Murder Mystery, dir Woody Allen. Rolling Stone
Magazine Online. 18 Aug 1993. Web. 29 Jun 2013.