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April 28, 2014

Movie Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors (Blu-ray.1989)

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Directed by Woody Allen

Wealthy ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) has everything. A prosperous practice, a loving wife and family and a flight attendant mistress, Dolores (Anjelica Houston). Tiring of their go-nowhere affair, Dolores threatens Judah to go to his wife about their relationship – as well as reveal some of financial shenanigans. Back against the wall, his life and career on the line, he listens to his hard-as-nails criminal brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) who can have Dolores whacked for X amount of dollars. Appalled that he would even consider such a thing, he goes ahead with the idea, and Dolores is killed, her murder made to look like a burglary break-in. After going through moral qualms, Judah becomes more confident than ever and returns to his world of high-class prestige.

A concurrent story involves documentary director Cliff Stern (director and writer Woody Allen) who is paid big money to make a film about talentless, overbearing TV personality Lester (Alan Alda). Stern wants to do a documentary about Professor Louis Levy (Martin Bergmann) who proffers fascinating theories about the God of the Old Testament. Stern justifies the high-paying project do fund his dream documentary, and takes the high road. Both Stern and Rosenthal meet, where Stern wonders if virtue really is its own reward.

I would never invite Stephen King to my house for movie night. He champions crap like The Boogens (1981), hates Dario Argento and he despises Kubrick’s adaptation of his The Shining (1980) to this very day. There’s one thing that both King and I agree upon: we’re no Woody Allen fans. He once wrote about putting off a trip to the drinking fountain in the movie theater’s lobby while watching Stardust Memories (1980) in order to give himself something to look forward to. Crimes and Misdemeanors is Allen at one of his most accessible while at the same time giving the viewer food for thought.

In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen subtly addresses class struggle in America. Part of Judah’s horror is that he will be revealed to be carrying on a torrid affair with a lower middle class flight attendant. As the audience soon learns, however, is that apples essentially come from apple trees. Heeding his gangster brother’s advice, Judah reveals himself -- that while he actively wishes to disassociate himself from the less well-heeled, is not above engaging in some very low-class murder.

Allen’s story offers up another intriguing conundrum: Do we compromise our values temporarily in order to reach a greater good? There are no easy answers, and the film doesn’t offer any.

I’m old enough to remember when this film first came out on VHS – without any marketing irony, and a group of friends and I – usually stuck on slasher horror flicks and stoner teenage comedies, went into detailed discussion about the film’s ambiguous ending and message. Allen is to be commended for offering up high messages on ethics and morality in an entertaining manner. One has to note that ethical behavior and Allen today is usually not thought of in the same sentence – but we won’t go there. Crimes and Misdemeanors offers a fascinating story about the human condition that will even have those who dislike Allen actively thinking and mulling over their own personal life decisions for days.

All in all, another superior release from Twilight Time. The Blu-Ray is limited to 3,000 copies and has an isolated music track, along with English subtitles for the hearing impaired. Be sure to catch this with friends: your conversations will last until the wee hours of the morning --   

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