France1931-1940ClassicsCrimePierre Chenal

Pierre Chenal – Crime et châtiment aka Crime and Punishment (1935)

Pierre Blanchar plays the murderer Raskolnikov, and Harry Baur is the police inspector on his trail…

Crime et châtiment is one of the overlooked masterpieces of 1930s French cinema, an early and almost faultless adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s celebrated 1866 novel Crime and Punishment. One of the reasons for the film’s comparative obscurity is that it was released in the same year as Josef von Sternberg’s better known American adaptation which starred Peter Lorre and Edward Arnold. The French version appears to have been heavily influenced by an earlier silent adaptation Raskolnikow (1923) from the renowned German filmmaker Robert Wiene, whose best-known work – Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) – is powerfully evoked in this film’s staging of the pivotal murder scene.

This first French version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel was directed by Pierre Chenal, the first important film he made having started out as a documentary filmmaker. Chenal would later direct Le Dernier tournant (1939), cinema’s earliest adaptation of James M. Cain’s thriller novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Although he was active as a film director for four decades (including a four year stint in Argentina during WWII), Chenal made fewer than thirty films and had a largely undistinguished career. His Crime et châtiment is undoubtedly his best work, a far more inspired piece than his subsequent literary adaptation L’Homme de nulle part (1937). Georges Lampin directed a subsequent (less impressive) version of Crime and Punishment in 1956, starring Jean Gabin and Robert Hossein.

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