Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)


Woody Allen spent most of the 1980s and ’90s veering between comedy and drama, and he rarely combined the two with greater success than in Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which he weaved together two stories, one deadly serious, one often funny, both ending in sadness. Martin Landau plays Dr. Judah Rosenthal, a prominent ophthalmologist with a successful practice, a loving family, and a reputation for generous charity work. But Rosenthal also has a secret: his mistress, Dolores (Anjelica Huston). What began as a casual fling has become uncomfortably intimate, and as he tries to break off the relationship, Dolores threatens to expose his infidelity to his wife and some unorthodox financial arrangements to his colleagues. Fearful that Dolores will make good on her threats, Judah confesses his secret to his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach), who has ties to organized crime and offers to “make the problem go away.” Meanwhile, Cliff Stern (Woody Allen) is a filmmaker working on his pet project, a documentary about philosopher Prof. Louis Levy (Martin Bergmann). However, films about philosophers don’t pay the rent, so Cliff’s wife Wendy (Joanna Gleason) arranges for him to make a documentary for public television about her brother Lester (Alan Alda), a famous TV comedian whose vapidity is exceeded only by his arrogance. While Cliff tries to bite the bullet and finish the film, he finds himself falling in love with PBS producer Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). — Mark Deming

One of Woody Allen’s most serious dramatic comedies, Crimes and Misdemeanors invoked comparisons to Hannah and Her Sisters, which Allen had made three years earlier. Similar to Hannah in its novel-like scope, interweaving stories, and rich ensemble acting, Crimes took the previous film’s moral and ethical issues one step further: whereas Hannah was primarily concerned with love and loss, Crimes presented questions about the very meaning of human existence. Unabashedly philosophical, Allen’s film was also one of his darkest, powered by a relentless pessimism, evocative of Allen’s heroes Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Anton Chekhov, coming to rest at the conclusion that true love will go unrewarded and the bad will go unpunished. It is a mark of Allen’s strength as a director and storyteller that, despite such pessimism, Crimes managed to be a surprisingly funny film, a masterful demonstration of Allen’s ability to weave together high comedy and sober drama. An ambitious project that Allen helmed with remarkable self-assurance, Crimes and Misdemeanors further established him as one of the cinema’s most reliably cerebral directors. — Rebecca Flint


Subtitles:English & Spanish (.srt); English, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish (subpack)

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