"That's right. And they don't mean a thing, right? Because nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind...you know. Everything really valuable has to enter you through a different opening...if you'll forgive the disgusting imagery".
If I recall correctly, I didn't much care for Woody Allen's MANHATTAN (1979) the first time I saw it. There were several reasons for this. On the night I saw the film, I had first dined on barbecue at the original County Line restaurant with my KTVV-TV (now KXAN) Eyewitness News co-workers Paula Hutchinson (and husband John), Steve Fallon and Artie Passes. After dinner, I was in a near meat coma and I had a splitting headache but we all headed over to the old Fox Theater on Airport Blvd. for the 10:00 p.m. showing of this new Woody Allen film. I was tired, full and in some amount of pain and I didn't much like the film. Plus, it wasn't ANNIE HALL, a previous Woody Allen film which I absolutely adored.
I've seen MANHATTAN several times over the years and I'm here to tell you that my first impression was dead wrong. I watched it again this afternoon, a viewing which confirmed my belief that this is one of Woody Allen's greatest films.
I like everything about this film: the script, the direction, the cast, the gorgeous black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis (and the formal compositions of the shots), the music of George Gershwin, everything. MANHATTAN operates as both a valentine to one of the greatest cities of the world and a hilarious meditation on desire and commitment and the eternal struggle between the heart and the mind.
Allen stars as Isaac Davis, a television sitcom writer who quits his job to write a novel. At the beginning of the film, he's involved with Tracy, a precocious seventeen-year-old played by Mariel Hemingway. Tracy is beginning to develop some real, deep feelings for Isaac but he insists that their relationship is merely a temporary fling. Isaac is also dealing with his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) who divorced him for another woman and is about to publish a tell-all memoir about her relationship with Isaac, a book that Isaac does not want to see published.
Isaac's best friend, Yale (Michael Murphy) is a married school teacher who is having an affair with Mary (Keaton) a neurotic and overly intellectual writer. Yale and Mary eventually split up, Isaac and Tracy break up (at Isaac's insistence) and Isaac and Mary begin a relationship. Everything appears to be going smoothly until Mary decides she's still in love with Yale, leaving Isaac to return to Tracy at the end of the film, only to discover that she's taken his advice and is about to leave New York City to study acting in London for six months.
There's no physical, slapstick humor in MANHATTAN but there are plenty of very funny lines. As writer (along with Marshall Brickman) and director Allen doesn't allow Isaac a happy ending, at least, not an immediate one. His happiness must be delayed for awhile as he finds that "not everybody gets corrupted" and "you have to have a little faith in people." MANHATTAN is a brilliant film, one of Allen's bonafide masterpieces. Highly recommended.