Manhattan (film)

Manhattan (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Charles H. Joffe
Written by Woody Allen
Marshall Brickman
Starring Woody Allen
Diane Keaton
Michael Murphy
Mariel Hemingway
Meryl Streep
Anne Byrne
Music by George Gershwin
played by the New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta and the Buffalo Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Editing by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) April 25, 1979 (1979-04-25)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $39,946,780[1]

Manhattan is a 1979 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Woody Allen about a twice-divorced 42-year-old comedy writer who dates a 17-year-old girl before eventually falling in love with his best friend's mistress. The movie was written by Allen and Marshall Brickman, who had also successfully collaborated on Annie Hall. Manhattan was filmed in black-and-white and 2.35:1 widescreen.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film. The film was #46 on American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Laughs". In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.



The film opens with a montage of images of Manhattan accompanied by George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), is introduced as a man writing a book about his love for New York City. He is a twice-divorced, 42-year-old television writer dealing with the women in his life who gives up his unfulfilling job as a comedy writer. He is dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a 17-year-old girl. His best friend, Yale (Michael Murphy), married to Emily (Anne Byrne), is having an affair with Mary Wilkie (Diane Keaton); her ex-husband and former teacher, Jeremiah (Wallace Shawn), also appears. Isaac's ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep) is writing a confessional book about their marriage. Jill has also since come out of the closet as a lesbian and lives with her female partner Connie (Karen Ludwig).

When Isaac meets Mary, her cultural snobbery rubs him the wrong way. Isaac runs into her again at an Equal Rights Amendment fund-raising event at the Museum of Modern Art and accompanies her on a cab ride home. They chat until sunrise in a sequence that culminates in the iconic shot of the Queensboro Bridge. In spite of a growing attraction to Mary, Isaac continues his relationship with Tracy. But he emphasizes that theirs can't be a serious relationship and encourages the girl to go to London to study acting. In another iconic scene, at Tracy's request, they go on a carriage ride through Central Park.

After Yale breaks up with Mary, he suggests Isaac ask her out. Isaac does, always having felt that Tracy was too young for him. Isaac breaks up with Tracy, much to her dismay, and before long Mary has virtually moved into his apartment. Emily is curious about Isaac's new girlfriend, and after several meetings between the two couples, including one where Emily reads out portions of Jill's new book about her marriage with Isaac, Yale leaves Emily to resume his relationship with Mary. A betrayed Isaac confronts Yale at the college where he teaches, and Yale argues that he found Mary first. Isaac responds by discussing Yale's extramarital affairs with Emily, but she thinks Isaac introduced Mary to Yale. In the denouement, Isaac lies on his sofa, musing into a tape recorder about the things that make "life worth living"—the final item, after which he sets down the microphone, is "Tracy's face."

He leaves his apartment and sets out on foot for Tracy's. He arrives at her family's doorman apartment just as she is leaving for London. He says that she doesn't have to go and that he doesn't want "that special thing" about her to change. She replies that the plans have already been made and reassures him that "not everyone gets corrupted" and "You've got to have faith in people". He gives her a slight smile segueing into final shots of the skyline with Rhapsody in Blue playing again.



The bridge shot

According to Allen, the idea for Manhattan originated from his love of George Gershwin's music. He was listening to one of the composer's albums of overtures and thought, "this would be a beautiful thing to make ... a movie in black and white ... a romantic movie".[2] Allen has said that Manhattan was "like a mixture of what I was trying to do with Annie Hall and Interiors".[3] He also said that his film deals with the problem of people trying to live a decent existence in an essentially junk-obsessed contemporary culture without selling out, admitting that he himself could conceive of giving away all of "[his] possessions to charity and living in much more modest circumstances", continuing, "I've rationalized my way out of it so far, but I could conceive of doing it".[4]

Allen talked to cinematographer Gordon Willis about how fun it would be to shoot the film in black and white, Panavision aspect ratio (2.35:1) because it would give "a great look at New York City, which is sort of one of the characters in the film".[5] Allen decided to shoot his film in black and white "because that's how I remember it from when I was small. Maybe it's a reminiscence from old photographs, films, books and all that. But that's how I remember New York. I always heard Gershwin music with it, too. In Manhattan I really think that we — that's me and cinematographer Gordon Willis — succeeded in showing the city. When you see it there on that big screen it's really decadent".[6] The picture was shot on location with the exception of some of the scenes in the planetarium which were filmed on a set.[7]

The famous bridge shot was done at 5 am.[8] The bridge had two sets of necklace lights on a timer controlled by the city. When the sun comes up, the bridge lights go off. Willis made arrangements with the city to leave the lights on and 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 Allen was forced to use that take.[8]

The ending of the film was inspired by the ending of City Lights. In a Charlie Chaplin documentary, Allen admitted he was inspired by the ending in which the blind girl has regained her sight after an operation and finds out that the Tramp is the one who has been helping her and the poignant smile he flashed as his response.

After finishing the film, Allen was very unhappy with it and asked United Artists not to release it. He offered to make a film for free instead.[9] Allen has never said why he disliked the movie in any interview which has puzzled many of his fans who consider it to be one of his best.

According to actress Stacey Nelkin, Manhattan was based on her romantic relationship with Woody Allen. Her bit part in Annie Hall ended up on the cutting room floor, and their relationship, though never publicly acknowledged by Allen, began when she was 17 years old and a student at New York’s Stuyvesant High School.[10]


Manhattan opened in 29 North American theaters on April 25, 1979. It grossed $485,734 ($16,749 per screen) in its opening weekend, and earned $39.9 million in its entire run.[11] The film was shown out of competition at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival in May.[12]

The film received largely positive reviews and currently has a rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.[13] Gary Arnold, in The Washington Post, wrote, "Manhattan has comic integrity in part because Allen is now making jokes at the expense of his own parochialism. There's no opportunity to heap condescending abuse on the phonies and sellouts decorating the Hollywood landscape. The result appears to be a more authentic and magnanimous comic perception of human vanity and foolhardiness".[14] In his review for Newsweek magazine, Jack Kroll wrote, "Allen's growth in every department is lovely to behold. He gets excellent performances from his cast. The increasing visual beauty of his films is part of their grace and sweetness, their balance between Allen's yearning romanticism and his tough eye for the fatuous and sentimental – a balance also expressed in his best screen play yet".[15] In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote, "Diane Keaton gives us a fresh and nicely edged New York intellectual. And Mariel Hemingway deserves some kind of special award for what's in some ways the most difficult role in the film".[16] Roger Ebert includes the film in his list of great movies.[17]

Alexander Walker of the London Evening Standard wrote, "So precisely nuanced is the speech, so subtle the behaviour of a group of friends, lovers, mistresses and cuckolds who keep splitting up and pairing off like unstable molecules".[18] Time film critic Frank Rich wrote at the time that Allen's film is "tightly constructed, clearly focused intellectually, it is a prismatic portrait of a time and place that may be studied decades hence to see what kind of people we were".[citation needed] Recently, J. Hoberman wrote in The Village Voice, "The New York City that Woody so tediously defended in Annie Hall was in crisis. And so he imagined an improved version. More than that, he cast this shining city in the form of those movies that he might have seen as a child in Coney Island—freeing the visions that he sensed to be locked up in the silver screen".[19]

Allen was named best director for Manhattan by the New York Film Critics Circle.[20] The National Society of Film Critics also named Allen best director along with Robert Benton who directed Kramer vs. Kramer.[21] The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.[22] It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

The film was #46 on American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Laughs". This film is number 63 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies." In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. It is also ranked #4 on Rotten Tomatoes' 25 Best Romantic Comedies.[23]

American Film Institute recognition

  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #46
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – #66
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
    • "I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics." – Nominated
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated

Manhattan also inspired the song "Remember Manhattan" written by Richard Marx and Fee Waybill from Marx's debut album.

Home release

Allen wanted to preserve Willis's compositions and insisted that the aspect ratio be preserved when the film was released on video (an unusual request in a time when widescreen films were normally panned and scanned for TV and video release). As a result, all copies of the film on video (and most television broadcasts) were letterboxed, originally with a gray border.[2]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Fox, Julian (September 1, 1996). "Woody: Movies from Manhattan". Overlook Hardcover. 
  3. ^ Brode, Douglas (1987). "Woody Allen: His Films and Career". Citadel Press. 
  4. ^ Rich, Frank (April 30, 1979). "An Interview with Woody". Time. 
  5. ^ Bjorkman, Stig (1993). "Woody Allen on Woody Allen". Grove Press. pp. 108. 
  6. ^ Palmer, Myles (1980). "Woody Allen". Proteus. p. 112. 
  7. ^ Bjorkman 1993, p. 112.
  8. ^ a b Willis, Gordon (April 6, 2004). "Made in Manhattan". Moviemaker. Retrieved February 13, 2009. 
  9. ^ Bjorkman 1993, p. 116.
  10. ^ "Stacey Nelkin: Actress, Sexpert – The Howard Stern Show for April 7, 2011". April 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Manhattan". Box Office Mojo. May 2, 1979. Retrieved January 11, 2007. 
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Manhattan". Retrieved May 25, 2009. 
  13. ^ "Manhattan". Rotten Tomatoes. May 2, 1979. Retrieved May 27, 2009. 
  14. ^ Arnold, Gary (May 2, 1979). "Woody Allen's Comic High: A Delightful and Deluxe Rhapsody of Wry Romance". The Washington Post. 
  15. ^ Kroll, Jack (April 30, 1979). "Woody's Big Apple". Newsweek. 
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1979). "Manhattan". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 11, 2008. 
  17. ^ Ebert, R. (2001, March 18). great movies. Retrieved from
  18. ^ Palmer 1980, p. 114.
  19. ^ Hoberman, J (July 10, 2007). "Defending Manhattan". The Village Voice.,hoberman,77195,20.html. Retrieved July 11, 2007. 
  20. ^ "Kramer vs. Kramer selected best film". The Globe and Mail. December 21, 1979. 
  21. ^ Arnold, Gary (January 3, 1980). "Film Critics' Pick of the Year". The Washington Post. 
  22. ^ Arnold, Gary (February 26, 1980). "Kramer, Jazz Lead Nominees". The Washington Post. 
  23. ^ "25 Best Romantic Comedies". Rotten Tomatoes. 2009. Retrieved February 12, 2009. 

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