Old 06-10-2009, 04:47 PM
Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" presents us with two interesting moral tales. One man has to deal with the morality of a murder that he wanted in order to end an affair, while another man decides to throw morals out the window so that he can be with another woman, and in typical Woody Allen fashion, there's always more to the story than there seems to be.

Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) is a successful ophthalmologist who is married to Miriam (Claire Bloome). He has been having an affair on the side with a flight attendant named Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston) who is ready to tell Judah's wife everything about their relationship. Dolores sends her a letter which Judah barely intercepts and even threatens to come straight to their house. After struggling with his morals, Judah decides to have her silenced with some help from his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach). However, his problems don't end there as his conscience continues to torment him.

The other story in the film is about a documentary filmmaker named Cliff Stern (Woody Allen) who is married to Wendy (Joanna Gleason). He is given the job to direct a film about his brother in law, Lester (Alan Alda), who is a successful television producer. On the job he meets another producer, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), and falls in love. He states his desire to leave his wife and marry her, but things don't go exactly as he hoped, especially with Lester in the way.

The story structure here is amazing; to counter an incredibly dark story of a murder with a lighter story of infatuation makes quite an intriguing film. On the one hand, Judah is obviously plagued by the morals involved with killing someone and is even more so after the deed is done, while on the other hand, Cliff thinks nothing of moral when deciding to cast off his wife for Halley.

On top of all of that, this film seems to be questioning God. Judah's father was very religious, so he was raised in a religious manner, always being told that the eyes of God were watching him. In his present life, he doesn't seem very religious, but still has plenty of reservations about having Dolores killed. Right after he is told the murder is done, he even says "God have mercy on us."

Judah even gets to the point where he wants to confess, but his brother gives him what sounds like a threat, though of course, Jack denies that it really is a threat. How is Judah to go on living like this, with the knowledge that he is directly responsible for the death of a human being? The answer is rather startling when he reveals it at the end.

To say that Cliff doesn't deal with morals is not exactly true, but it is the morals of Lester that he is more concerned about. When he finds that Halley is becoming attracted to him, he continues to tell her that he thinks Lester has a bad character, opinions which he certainly has never kept secret. His opinion even finds its way into his work.

When he is screening some of the documentary for Lester, there are scenes that are intercut into the film showing Lester hitting on a woman, as well as comparing him with Benito Mussolini and a donkey. It becomes fascinating that he is so concerned with Lester's morals, yet not the least concerned with his own. Lester is single, successful, and is probably a good match for Halley, while Cliff is married and not exactly successful.

The final conversation between Cliff and Judah is particularly strange. They have both met up at a wedding and have wondered off from the crowd. Judah describes a perfect murder plot to Cliff who tries to implement his own ending onto it by saying the guy should turn himself in; he has no idea that Judah is telling him a true story. Judah tells us that one day he woke up, the sun was shining, and he was with his family. The crisis had suddenly been lifted and he finds that he has not been punished.

This is the kind of film where good things happen to bad people and vice-versa. Judah is not punished, Cliff doesn't get the girl, and the rabbi even loses his sight. Judah finds that God, who he was brought up to believe is always watching him, has not punished him, so he is understandably perplexed, yet finds the will to go on with his life. As for Cliff, well, we don't really know where he goes from here. He tried his best to turn his life around, but ends up losing almost everything he had.

You may think I've ruined a lot, but these are mere plot points and only add up to a part of what makes this a great film. Another reason, amongst several, is because Martin Landau gives a brilliantly complex performance as a man who struggles with the crisis of keeping his family together while also keeping his conscience together. Woody Allen has crafted a great film here in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and it's certainly worthy to sit amongst his best. 3.5/4 stars.
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