Available on Blu-Ray Mon 3 April 2017
Crimes and Misdemeanors is often cited by critics as one of Woody Allen’s best films, however, its disjointed narratives prevent it from becoming one of Allen’s stronger works. The film’s two story lines – one dramatic, the other comedic – bear little relation to each other with the exception of the overarching theme of failed romantic relationships, and differ in quality.
The dramatic narrative is the strongest of the two – it concerns optometrist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), who is thrust into a moral crisis following threats from his mistress Dolores (Anjelica Huston) about revealing their affair, as well as Judah’s unorthodox financial issues. Judah is persuaded by his criminal brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) that the ideal solution is to arrange for Dolores to be eliminated by a hitman to prevent any suspicion from being aroused. Judah reluctantly goes along with his brother’s proposal, but is left struggling with the guilt that results from the killing. This action causes him to revert to his Jewish beliefs that God is watching and judging him for his actions. Landau perfectly conveys the haunted and morally conflicted nature of Judah. For example, Judah’s fireside conversation with his rabbi patient Ben (Sam Waterston) debating the moral ramifications of his plan to have Dolores killed allows Landau to show his character’s turmoil through silent lingering gazes at the flames, with his facial expressions alone conveying a multitude of emotions.
In contrast, the comedic narrative features Allen as a thinly-disguised version of himself as Clifford, a neurotic unemployed documentary filmmaker who sacrifices his artistic integrity to make a documentary centred around his brash television producer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda). Whilst filming the documentary, Clifford becomes acquainted with Lester’s associate producer and fellow frustrated creative Halley Reed (Mia Farrow) and the two begin a passionate love affair. This story line is far less effective, resorting to a faintly satirical look at the television industry which serves as more of an excuse for Allen to voice his issues with commercial film making. However, Clifford’s railing against the limitations of the television industry to Halley feels somewhat hypocritical considering that at the time of Crimes release, Allen had been provided with years of creative freedom and ample funding from studios. The relationship between Clifford and Halley also appears contrived, with their apparent bonding over Clifford’s documentary concerning philosopher Louis Levy appearing abrupt and underwritten.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is an interesting yet patchy film from Woody Allen that, with some reworking, would have been able to stand alongside some of his better works.