Sunday, April 3, 2011


(October 1989, U.S.)

By the year 1989, Woody Allen had not starred in one of his own film since HANNAH AND HER SISTERS three years prior. Actually, the closest he'd come was a short film as part of NEW YORK STORIES (1988). CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS is set in New York City (where else?)and follows two main characters: Judah Rosenthal (played by Martin Landau), a successful ophthalmologist, and Cliff Stern (played by Woody Allen), a struggling documentary filmmaker. The two men are each confronted with their own moral crises. Judah faces the harsh reality of guilt and anguish over his "crime" of instigating the murder of his unstable mistress who threatens to expose their affair to his wife and family. Cliff faces the far less complications of his "misdemeanor" which is infidelity and perhaps portraying a negative image of his pompous television producer brother-in-law Lester (played by Alan Alda) through a documentary film of his (Lester's) life. According to Cliff, "What is the guy so upset about? You'd think nobody was ever compared to Mussolini before."

While most any Woody Allen film would care to focus on the insanity and ironic comedy of life, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS is what I would consider one of his more serious films in that it not only deeply explores one's guilt and remorse over the taking of another human life, but also concentrates on the religious implications (in this case, Judaism) that drives that guilt and the teachings of childhood religion that some are incapable of letting go of even when attempting to reject it. Although Jewish himself, this is probably the one film where Allen really makes a point of Jewish upbringing and the teachings of God's knowledge and watchfullness (if that's your belief, anyway).

In an interesting final scene, Judah and Cliff meet by happenstance at the wedding of the daughter of Ben, Cliff's brother-in-law and(coincidentally) Judah's patient. Judah has managed to conveniently work through his guilt and is enjoying his life of wealth and priviledge once more; the murder having been blamed on a drifter with a criminal record. He draws Cliff into a supposedly hypothetical discussion that draws upon his moral quandary. Judah says that with time, any crisis can pass; but Cliff morosely claims instead that one is forever fated to bear one's burdens for their "crimes and misdemeanors." Food for thought, I suppose, if you're even hungry for it.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Lester: "If it bends, it's funny. If it breaks, it's not funny."

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