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Crimes and Misdemeanors

October 10, 2010

799. Crimes and Misdemeanors
Directed by Woody Allen

USA, 1989
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


Two separate stories are subtly intertwined:

Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) has been married for over 20 years. He’s a successful opthamologist and is very popular in his social circle. Suddenly his whole life is turned upside down when his mistress of two years (Anjelica Huston) threatens to tell his wife of their affair, also threatening to reveal his financial indiscretions. Judah turns to his thug brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) for advice, and Jack has something rather drastic in mind.

Clifford Stern (Woody Allen) is a struggling documentary film-maker who desperately wants to complete his film about a fascinating philosophy professor. When Clifford is offered the job of making a documentary about his brother-in-law (Alan Alda), a vain and shallow TV producer, he grudgingly takes it so he can fund his other project.

While filming his brother-in-law, he meets producer Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). With Clifford’s marriage going stale and his creativity being stifled, Clifford takes solace in Halley’s intelligence and friendship, and quickly falls in love with her.

Essential Scene:

On a stormy night Judah walks through the house alone, agonising over what to do about his mistress. A previous conversation Judah had with a patient and friend, who is also a rabbi, plays as narration.

Ben: Sometimes, when there’s real love and true acknowledgement of a mistake, there can be forgiveness, too.

Judah: I know Miriam. Her values, her feelings. Our place among our friends and colleagues.

Ben: But what choice do you have if the woman is going to tell her? You have to confess the wrong and hope for understanding. I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t feel with all my heart a moral structure with real meaning and forgiveness, and some kind of higher power. Otherwise there’s no basis to know how to live. And I know you well enough to know that the spark of that notion is inside you somewhere too.

Judah sits down and lights a cigarette. In his imagination, Ben walks into the room.

Ben: Could you go through with it?

Judah: What choice do I have, Ben? Tell me.

Ben: Give the people that you’ve hurt a chance to forgive you.

Judah: Miriam won’t forgive me. She’ll be broken. She worships me. She’ll be humiliated before our friends. This woman plans to make a stink.

Ben: Did you make promises to her?

Judah: No. Maybe I led her on more than I realised. She’s so emotionally hungry. But it’s deeper than just Miriam now.

Ben: Meaning financial improprieties?

Judah: No. Maybe I… maybe I did make some questionable moves.

Ben: Only you would know that, Judah.

Judah: I don’t anymore, Ben. Sometimes it’s worse than… worse than jail.

Ben: It’s a human life. You don’t think God sees?

Judah: God is a luxury I can’t afford.

Ben: Now you’re talking like your brother Jack.

Judah: Jack lives in the real world. You live in the kingdom of heaven. I managed to keep free of that real world but.. Suddenly it’s found me.


Without going too deep here, Crimes and Misdemeanors is an excellent piece of existentialism. It tackles the subjects of morality and ethics while showing us that such crises of conscience can happen to anyone. Take Judah; he appears to have the perfect life. Children, a good job and social standing. But his lust took him elsewhere and put him in a nightmarish position.

To what extent is someone’s unhappiness caused by their own choices? Does religion blind you or open your eyes to the world around you? How much are we influenced by others? As you can tell, it’s a bit of a heavy film. But it’s existentialism from a Woody Allen perspective so you’ve got some fantastic dialogue along the way.

Clifford: Last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty.

The performances are excellent and the characters are very well rounded. I personally really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to seeing more Allen films.


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