Mel Brooks had Carl Reiner to spar with, Elaine May had Mike Nichols but Woody Allen, their fellow 1960s comic genius was always a bit of a lone wolf. However, as a director Allen was fascinated with partnerships, and the nature of relationships between two people is a recurring obsession that runs through all his films. It doesn’t matter how good a one-liner is, or how well it is delivered; you need someone to pitch it to who can knock it back. As such, Woody Allen wasn’t part of one double-act, but dozens.
Woody Allen has been one half of several strange partnerships, most recently as John Turturro’s pimp in last year’s Fading Gigolo. Then there’s Antz, in which his neurotic insect Z falls in love with Sharon Stone’s unavailable ant princess. You could argue that Woody Allen’s dancing partner for most of his career was New York, that city he idolised out of all proportion until he started playing away from home in London, Barcelona, Paris and Rome. However, New York is still his most identifiable backdrop and it’s where we find our first Woody Allen partnership.
Woody Allen & Mariel Hemingway Manhattan (1979)
Woody Allen’s blind spot, the increasingly vast age discrepancy between himself and his leading ladies, started here with the relationship between Isaac (Allen, 42) and the beautiful ingenue Tracy (Hemingway, 17). “I’m dating a girl wherein I can beat up her father.” However, unlike in later movies – Whatever Works with Larry David dating Evan Rachel Wood is a typical example – Tracy is a far stronger character than Isaac. While he spends most of the film trying to talk himself out of any form of commitment, Tracy steadfastly knows what she wants and deals with it.
That’s Diane Keaton sat on the park bench in front of the 59th St Bridge on the poster, but the main romance in Manhattan is between Isaac and Tracy. There is genuine warmth and love in their scenes together, even when they break up and he encourages her to see boys her own age, ‘You know, Billy and Biff and…Scooter, y’know…little Tommy…’ In the end, it is the realisation that Tracy is the best thing in his life that sends Isaac on a classic last-minute, relationship-saving city dash to stop her leaving town. Tracy doesn’t play ball, though. She leaves but promises to return, giving Manhattan the most optimistic last line of Allen’s career. ‘Not everyone gets corrupted. You just have to have a little faith in people