Analysis of Manhattan murder mystery

Summary "Murder by Death" follows a middle-aged couple, Larry and Carol, who get caught up in a murder mystery with their neighbors. They investigate suspicious behavior, find evidence in their neighbor's apartment, and discover a dead body in a hotel room. They plan to trap the killer with a fake audition, but it goes wrong, leading to a hostage situation where the killer demands a package from Larry. Eventually, Larry's lie is exposed, leading to a physical fight and shootout in which the killer is killed and Larry and Carol are rescued by the police.

Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The screenplay has a good balance of tension and humor, keeping the audience engaged throughout. However, some of the plot points feel contrived and the pacing could be improved in certain areas.
Suggestions: To improve the screenplay, consider tightening up the pacing in scenes where tension is lacking and further developing some of the minor characters to add more depth to the story. Additionally, some of the plot points could benefit from being streamlined or reworked in order to feel more organic to the overall narrative.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:


Carol is a middle-aged woman who is curious, outgoing, empathetic, emotional, impulsive, determined, resourceful, smart, capable, sharp-tongued, level-headed, and skeptical. She misses the adventurism of her past and is disappointed in Larry's lack of enthusiasm. She is dedicated to solving mysteries and is unafraid of putting herself in danger.


Paul is a middle-aged man who was initially proud of his stamp collection and self-made success. He is grieving the recent death of his wife and expresses a desire to leave the city to escape his memories. However, his mysterious behavior raises suspicion, and he is eventually revealed as the primary antagonist of the film. Paul is calculated, manipulative, and ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to cover up his crimes and get what he wants. He is slick and charming, which makes him especially dangerous as he can easily manipulate those around him. Despite his cold exterior, Paul is also desperate and vulnerable, as evidenced by his willingness to hold Carol hostage and demand a package from Larry as part of his escape plan.


Sy is a middle-aged man who is friendly and sociable, he enjoys talking about antiques and movies. He is also a skilled technician and is confident in his abilities. However, when faced with intense and high-pressure situations, he can become very focused and determined to solve problems. At times, he also struggles with self-doubt and nervousness.


Marilyn is a middle-aged woman who is kind, supportive, and empathetic. She has a positive outlook on life and enjoys spending time with her friends. She values their relationships and goes out of her way to help them whenever she can.


Ted is a quirky and humorous man who is recently divorced and still trying to figure out his life. He is enthusiastic about potential business locations and loves the idea of a romantic restaurant, but he is somewhat clueless about social cues. He is curious and easily amused, eager and enthusiastic about getting involved in investigations, but sometimes naive and lacking in motivation. He also struggles with dating and commitment, and is often indecisive or overly agreeable.


Marcia is an intelligent, resourceful, and ambitious woman who is also a skilled poker player and writer. She is supportive and calm, and she plays a key role in uncovering the truth behind the murder mystery. Marcia is cunning and confident in her ability to deceive the murderer. Her motivation is to show off her intelligence and solve the mystery. She has a keen understanding of the perfect murder and presents important information to the group about their strategy. She is also a possible suspect, showing her darker side and analytical mind.


Gladys is a middle-aged woman with short gray hair and a tough exterior. She has a no-nonsense attitude and is not afraid to stand up for herself. Despite her rough exterior, she has a kind heart and cares deeply for those close to her. She is also resourceful and quick-witted, able to use her surroundings to her advantage.

Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Carol Carol's character arc in the screenplay revolves around her rediscovery of her adventurous spirit and her journey towards reconnecting with Larry. At the beginning of the movie, Carol is frustrated with their relationship and misses the excitement of their past. Her curiosity and determination lead her to investigate their neighbor's behavior, and she becomes increasingly obsessed with solving the mystery. However, this obsession also leads to rash decisions and puts her in danger. As she continues to investigate, she realizes that she misses the thrill of adventure and is excited by the prospect of solving a new mystery. This leads her to become more open to new experiences and to take charge of the situation. Through their shared experiences, Carol and Larry reconnect and rediscover the passion and excitement they once shared. The character arc for Carol is well-developed and provides a strong backbone for the screenplay. However, it would have been beneficial to explore her motivations and background in more detail. While we see glimpses of her past and her longing for adventure, we don't fully understand why she is so driven to solve mysteries and what sparked this interest in the first place. Additionally, her character could have benefitted from a stronger internal conflict, such as a moral dilemma over breaking the law to uncover the truth. This would have added depth and complexity to her character.
To improve Carol's character arc, it would be useful to explore her motivations and backstory in more detail. Additionally, adding a moral conflict would make her character more dynamic and complex. Finally, it would be beneficial to show more of Carol's vulnerabilities and doubts, particularly in the face of danger, to make her more relatable and human.
Paul Throughout the film, Paul's character arc is that of a man who begins as a seemingly harmless and grieving widower, but ultimately reveals himself to be a cold and calculating killer. As the story progresses, Paul's behavior becomes increasingly suspicious, and it becomes clear that he is hiding something. His true nature is revealed when he holds Carol captive and demands that Larry give him a package as part of his escape plan. Despite his confidence and cunning, Paul ultimately underestimates Larry and his accomplices, leading to his downfall. While Paul is an effective antagonist, his character arc is somewhat predictable and lacks nuance. The reveal that he is the killer could be less telegraphed, and his motivations could benefit from further exploration. Additionally, his vulnerability and desperation could be better established throughout the film, rather than being revealed all at once.
To improve Paul's character arc, it may be useful to explore his history with his wife in more detail, highlighting the ways in which her death has affected him. Additionally, hints at his duplicity could be more subtle, perhaps through foreshadowing and the use of red herrings. Finally, his vulnerability and desperation could be more effectively conveyed by showing him in moments of weakness, rather than relying solely on his actions in the third act.
Sy Sy's character arc begins with him being a reliable and necessary member of the team, using his technical expertise to help with the bluffing plan. As the stakes get higher and the case becomes more intense, he becomes more determined to catch the killer. Despite his doubts, he overcomes his nervousness to contribute to the success of the investigation. By the end of the movie, Sy has become more confident in his abilities and has proven himself to be an important part of the team. The character arc for Sy is fairly conventional and predictable. While there is some growth in his confidence and ability to handle pressure, it would be more interesting to see him struggle with more internal conflict and difficult choices. Additionally, his background and motivations are not fully explored in the film, making him feel somewhat one-dimensional.
To improve Sy's character arc, the film could delve deeper into his personal history and the reasons for his self-doubt. This would create more emotional depth and give him more agency in the story. Additionally, it would be interesting to see him faced with more challenging decisions that force him to confront his own limitations and beliefs, adding more complexity to his character.
Marilyn Throughout the movie, Marilyn begins as a reliable and helpful friend who is always there for Carol and Larry. As the story progresses, she becomes more assertive and engaged in the group's plan to catch the thief. She starts to express her own concerns about their emotional well-being and encourages them to be honest with each other. By the end of the movie, Marilyn has become a more independent and confident person who is not afraid to speak her mind and take action. The character arc for Marilyn is well-rounded and believable. However, it could benefit from more development or backstory to explain her personality traits and motivations. Additionally, the arc could be more impactful if Marilyn faced more challenges or obstacles in her journey towards becoming more assertive.
One suggestion for improving Marilyn's character arc would be to include more scenes that reveal her personal life or relationships outside of the group. This would help to give her more depth and make her motivations more clear. Additionally, adding more conflict or tension to her journey would make it more engaging for the audience.
Ted Throughout the movie, Ted grows more focused and driven as he becomes involved in investigations and starts to take them more seriously. He develops a clearer sense of goals and motivations, and becomes a more confident and experienced worker. However, he also continues to struggle with dating and commitment, and sometimes causes tension in his relationships. Ultimately, he becomes an important collaborator and supportive friend to the other characters, providing valuable insights and assistance to help them solve the mystery. The character arc for Ted is somewhat inconsistent, with his growth and development being occasionally sidelined in favor of comic relief or more dramatic plot developments. Additionally, his struggles with dating and commitment could be more deeply explored, to give the character more nuance and depth. Finally, there is some confusion about his motivations and goals, and more clarity on this issue could make his character more compelling.
To improve the character arc for Ted, it might be helpful to give him a clear arc or throughline that more effectively ties together his various scenes and interactions with other characters. Additionally, exploring his backstory and motivations in more depth could help make him a more complex and interesting character. Finally, it might be helpful to give him more agency and proactivity, so that he feels less like a passive observer or sidekick in some scenes.
Marcia Marcia starts off as a supportive and intelligent character who helps the group uncover the truth behind the murder mystery. She then becomes very goal-focused and ambitious, presenting her theory of the perfect murder and wanting to catch the murderer no matter what it takes. She then becomes a bit darker and more suspicious, being presented as a possible suspect. However, she continues to be resourceful and provides important ideas and information to the group. Finally, Marcia proves to be instrumental in solving the mystery and revealing the killer's identity. The character arc is well done, but it could be improved by giving Marcia more internal conflict. She seems very confident throughout the film, and it would be interesting to see her struggle with her suspicions and ambition. It would also be helpful to give her more backstory to explain her motivations and darker side.
To improve the character arc, Marcia could struggle with her suspicions and ambition, possibly even becoming paranoid and causing conflict within the group. It would also be helpful to give her more backstory, such as explaining her history with poker and writing and how it influences her desire to solve the mystery.
Gladys Gladys initially starts off as a minor character, only briefly seen on the phone with Paul. However, as the story progresses, she becomes more involved in the plot, eventually entering the scene with a gun. Initially worried about Paul's behavior, Gladys tries to engage him but is met with resistance. However, as the story unfolds and Gladys discovers Paul's true intentions, her anger and desire for revenge take over. She becomes a woman scorned, seeking payback for being dumped for a younger woman. Despite the danger posed by Paul, Gladys stands up to him, displaying her toughness and resilience. However, in the final climactic scene, Gladys's desire for revenge is tempered by her love and concern for others. She is able to save the day by stepping in to stop Paul, proving herself to be a hero. The character arc for Gladys is well-executed, with a clear progression from a minor character to a hero. However, her desire for revenge could be better developed and explored. Additionally, her backstory and motivations could be more fully fleshed out to better explain her actions and behavior throughout the movie.
One way to improve Gladys's character arc would be to more fully explore her motivations and backstory. This could involve delving deeper into her past relationship with Paul and exploring how it has affected her. Additionally, her desire for revenge could be more fully developed, perhaps by showing how Paul's behavior has directly harmed her. Finally, her actions in the final scene could be better explained and motivated by showing how she has grown and changed throughout the course of the movie.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
MortalityThe sudden death of Lilian sets a tragic and morose tone throughout subsequent scenes. They discuss life, death, and love.The theme of mortality explores the inevitability of death and how it affects the characters' perspectives and actions.
Ethics and MoralityLarry and Carol argue about the ethics of breaking into Paul's apartment. They engage in a conversation about the possible motives and identities of the killer.The theme of ethics and morality explores the characters' sense of right and wrong and how it affects their decisions.
ParanoiaThey eventually become paranoid about their neighbors. Carol breaks into Paul's apartment to uncover evidence of his wrongdoings. They conduct surveillance on Helen Moss.The theme of paranoia explores the characters' fear of the unknown and their suspicion of others.
Love and RelationshipsLarry and Carol discuss personal information, uncover secrets and tensions, and express disappointment in each other. A tense standoff turns into a shootout, resulting in Paul's death. Larry and Carol rescue each other.The theme of love and relationships explores the characters' connections and how they change over the course of the story.
ConsequencesLarry and Carol panick about how to handle the situation without physical proof. They plan to bluff the murderer into buying a body they found and use his lover to produce evidence.The theme of consequences explores the characters' actions and how they lead to reactions and outcomes.
Humor in TensionLarry and Carol bicker, joke to cope with tension, struggle with audio cues, and have moments of humor during a tense standoff.The theme of humor in tension explores how humor can alleviate stress during tense situations.

Screenwriting Resources on Themes


Site Description
Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

YouTube Videos

Title Description
Story, Plot, Genre, Theme - Screenwriting Basics Screenwriting basics - beginner video
What is theme Discussion on ways to layer theme into a screenplay.
Thematic Mistakes You're Making in Your Script Common Theme mistakes and Philosophical Conflicts