Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: October 13th, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Woody Allen Actors: Woody Allen, Martin Landau, Claire Bloom, Anjelica Huston, Joanna Gleason, Alan Alda, Sam Waterston, Mia Farrow, Zina Jasper




ike many of Woody Allen’s films of the ‘80s, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” starts with upbeat jazz and simple credits over black backgrounds. From here, viewers learn of philanthropist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), who, while fretting over a speech he must deliver later at a celebration in his honor, discovers a letter to his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom) from his unstable mistress Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston). He intercepts it, knowing trouble and a sticky confrontation is imminent. After two years, he wants to break it off with Dolores, but she resorts to blackmail tactics to keep him around. For a solution, he calls upon his friend Jack (Jerry Orbach), who goads him with the idea of getting rid of her permanently; all that is necessary is the right amount of cash.

Meanwhile, aspiring filmmaker Cliff Stern (Woody Allen, who wisecracks and bickers in his typical whiny, fidgety, stammering, fast-talking manner) wishes to make a philosophy film about an intellectual professor, but is instead commissioned by his pompous, self-important, and successful TV producer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda) to make a documentary about Lester’s achievements and ideas in the subject of comedy. During the shoot, Cliff meets production assistant Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), who shares his passion for watching movies during the day (several clips of classic black-and-white movies are thrown in for good measure, while Cliff’s apartment is adorned with film reels and Chaplin posters) and helps to encourage Stern to make his project with the professor a reality. He’s bored with his marriage to Wendy (Joanna Gleason), and is clearly pursuing Halley; he must also contend with Lester’s competitive flirtations toward the aider, without letting on to his wife that he’s jealous.

“A strange man defecated on my sister.” As with most of Allen’s films, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” deals with average people and their relationships, ethical dilemmas, and human sexuality – with many of these concepts doused in tumultuousness, complexity, adulterousness, and deviance. The film also examines morality, justice, regret, and consequences with a healthy dose of drama, humor, and powerful music (including resonating classical numbers and trumpet-driven jazz). Flashbacks cut in to emphasize the character’s thoughts, backed by religious imagery and symbolism.  The dialogue is brilliant as always, using intelligent words delivered naturally and eloquently. Many of the conversations even sound improvised – a testament to the skilled actors and careful scripting.

At times the movie observes, patiently, the characters and their predicaments, seemingly going nowhere. The murder/mystery portion proceeds predictably, with unbearable guilt impeding a clean getaway, while the conflicted lovers’ story moves in circles, meandering on unaffecting romantic hurdles. In the end, it takes the form of a tragedy, where explanations are spelled out unnecessarily, and fiction copies reality, simply to demonstrate a point. “If you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie,” states Judah. The philosophy is interesting, but the result is only marginally entertaining.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10