Woody is funny…no, he's dramatic…no, funny…no, dramatic…
Woody Allen seems to pound out movies like a porn distributor (though usually of much better quality). It seems like just after one has left the theater, another is on the way right quick. He's acclaimed by critics (winning Academy Awards for Annie Hall, as well as nominations for numerous other films), and has a small following of film groupies who line up to see his movies like they were the next Star Wars outing. In 1989, Allen made the dramatic comedy Crimes and Misdemeanors, a complex tale of human choices and the consequences that follow. Starring Martin Landau (Oscar winner for Ed Wood), Angelica Huston (The Grifters), Alan Alda (M*A*S*H), Mia Farrow (Embittered ex-wife of Allen and star of many of his films), as well as Woody himself, Crimes and Misdemeanors is featured as a single disc, as well as part of MGM's Woody Allen box set.
Facts of the Case
Crimes and Misdemeanors is a movie that follows various storylines, each one wrapping around another, and so forth. One follows the path of Judah Rosenthal (Landau), a respected optometrist and family man who is being threatened with blackmail by a spurned ex-mistress (Huston). He fears their secret affair will expose him negatively to his family (duh) and the community, so he pays a visit to his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach), who has ties to the mob. Jack makes a few suggestions on how he can rid Judah of his problem, one of them involving murder. Judah also discusses this with a patient, Ben (Sam Waterson), a good hearted Rabbi who is going blind. Judah sees the world as harsh and cruel, whereas Ben sees it as a place of moral value and governed by a higher power.
In another part of town, inspired filmmaker Cliff Stern (Allen) has been asked to shoot a profile of egotistic TV producer Lester (Alda) while working on his own documentary about the accomplished Professor Louis Levy (Martin Bergmann). Cliff is also vying for the attentions of Halley Reed (Farrow), a fellow film worker who is helping out Lester on his project. Cliff despises working on the shoot, but does it to gain the work and complete his own documentary on a well known scholar, Professor Levy (Martin Bergmann).
Each character must make a choice in love, honor, and deception. In the movies, choices often have moral and fair consequences; but is it true in real life (i.e., the confines of Crimes and Misdemeanors)?
Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of Woody Allen's best movies, hands down. It seethes with such vivid characters and wonderful dialogue that you forget about all the personal scandal and trouble Woody has been in the past few years. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen poses some intriguing questions—what is the basis of morality? Does God exist (a question that pops up frequently in many of Allen's movies)? Allen is a smart filmmaker, knowing that there are no black and white answers to any of these questions (in the context of his films).
Crimes and Misdemeanors starts off with an excellent cast, including the brilliant Martin Landau as Judah Rosenthal. Landau has been making movies for years, featured in such films as the Hitchcock classic North By Northwest to the cruddy B.A.P.S.. Here he is at the top of his profession as a man whom the audience should hate, but doesn't. The reality is, Judah is a very likable man, even with his terrible secrets. In part, that's the key to Allen's script: characters who are complex not only for the film, but for the audience as well. Judah's character is summed up nicely when he observes that "God is a luxury I can't afford." Judah wants to know the pleasures of having love and trust in God as Rabbi Ben does, but can't seem to muster any of that same faith. He thinks that his troubles are a punishment, failing to realize that it's his own hand that has caused him his pain.
Woody Allen is his usual funny persona playing Cliff, a variation on every other character he's ever played. Alan Alda is excellent as Lester, a man so wrapped up in himself that he can't see what others perception of him is. The rest of the cast, including Huston, Claire Bloom as Judah's wife, and Martin Bergmann as Prof. Levy are all very good, pushed onward by Allen's tremendously well written script.
Though the script is heavy in drama, it is also a very funny comedy. Allen will always be one of the best comics in film history, creating gems such as Love and Death and Annie Hall. Though Crimes and Misdemeanors is not nearly as funny as some of his other work, it still has very funny moments, most of them involving Cliff's annoyance with Lester.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Like many of the other Woody Allen releases, Crimes and Misdemeanors looks very good. Though there was a slight amount of edge enhancement present, overall the picture is bright and clear. Colors sometimes tend to look a bit drab, but that's often how Allen's films are shot. Blacks are solid with no digital artifacting spotted. A very good transfer from MGM.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (English, French, Spanish). Though the video portion of the disc is very good, the audio is less impressive (though passable). The 2.0 track tends to come mainly from the front speakers, with side speakers rarely being used. Dialogue is clear and clean with music and effects mixed well. French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Supplemental material consists of a collectible booklet (in all actuality, a two page insert filled with liner notes), as well as a full frame theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, nothing very exciting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's such a shame that Allen refuses to embrace the DVD technology, deciding not to add anything to any of his films in the area of extra features. I would love to have a commentary track by Allen, discussing cast changes, script insights and behind-the-scenes stories. In interviews, Allen seems generally talkative and discusses interesting aspects of his craft; too bad that's not to be on any of his discs.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is available in a Woody Allen box set from MGM. Though I can't recommend that as a purchase (unless you're a die hard fan), I can wholeheartedly say that Crimes and Misdemeanors is worth picking up. Ranking as one of Woody's best movies, this is a great drama/comedy for any film fan to own. With a very good transfer and a decent audio track, Crimes and Misdemeanors is a must for anyone who likes their drama with a dose off good humor.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is acquitted of all charges. In this reviewer's opinion, it would be a "crime" or a "misdemeanor" to miss seeing this movie…
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
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