Oh for heaven’s sake Ken…
Ken Russell throughout the ’70s made some interesting films including the classic The Devils even though for the most part they are overly long and have an air of operatic excess only a few directors like Fellini, Jodorowsky or Gilliam can pull off. He finally started working in Hollywood with 1977’s Valentino which Russell considered the single biggest mistake of his career. He followed that with streamlined psychedelic sci-fi film Altered States. The studio seemed to controlled his excesses to the right amount to make his best film even if the screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was unhappy with Russell’s changes.
This takes us up to Crimes of Passion which is a 360° nosedive into the worst of cinematic excess. Russell is only partly responsible for this because Barry Sandler’s screenplay would have even the best director struggling to make a cohesive film out of it except perhaps Brian De Palma. At times it wants to be a serious view at prostitution and moments later it has Anthony Perkins’ performance as a demented street priest which is so campy and over the top it’s almost worth bothering with the film for his performance.
Kathleen Turner who was a “hot” star at the time by just coming off starring in both Body Heat and Romancing the Stone is the lead here as Joanna Crane / China Blue. She works for a fashion designer during the day and is a hooker by night. She is investigated by her boss because she is believed to be selling patterns to her boss’ competitors. How the investigator withholds his information after they both become involved and Perkins priest becomes increasingly obsessed with China Blue.
Turner lucked out she still had a career afterwards because she is terrible in the film but that’s due to the script being so appalling which lines that are trying to hard to be campy and funny like “If you think you’re gonna’ get back in my panties, forget it. There’s one asshole in there already.”. John Laughlin as the investigator is a charisma vacuum and leaves no indelible print on the viewers’ memory and his career has never really taken off despite steady work in bit parts to this day. Bruce Davison also appears but his role isn’t big enough given his talent.
The film has a ’80s neon aesthetic which if done now would look great (ala. any Nick Refn film from Drive onwards) but because the cheap looking film stock (it was made for New World Pictures) it just looks like a bad porno from the time. Supposedly there would be a dip in quality with the scenes added from Russell’s director’s cut which was mastered for laserdisc, I can’t say I noticed it once. I can’t say if it’s due to the great job by Arrow in the restoration or just how crappy the film looked in the first place, probably a mixture of the two.
The film’s biggest detractor isn’t even the awful performances or the script (which needed more rewrites than your standard superhero film has) but the score. Prog rocker Rick Wakeman composed which should be off-putting enough. It’s dated ’80s synthesizer classical riffs which moments of prog madness but not even in the funny ELP way. It’s the very worst of prog rock and the very worst of ’80s music production.
Overall you would think a film which featuring a silver dildo, Anthony Perkins being barking bad, Kathleen Turner as a hooker would at least be entertaining. It is for about 30 minutes but the film’s running time is nearly 2 hours, it would almost work if it was a 80 minutes low-budget sleazefest. However with the “prestige” of New World making “A Ken Russell Film” he got full control and it’s an orgy of bad acting, cheap kinkyness, a horrendously script and arguably the worst score ever recorded in cinematic history.
Arrow has given Crimes of Passion the treatment it doesn’t deserve. It has a new 2K transfer of both the director’s cut and the unrated version. Ken Russell and Barry Sandler appear in a commentary track together recorded back in 2002, Russell passed away in 2011. Sandler is featured again in a newly filmed interview and is a bore to listen to. Rick Wakeman is also interviewed in a late addition to the disc after Arrow dropped a home movie of Ken Russell visiting a film festival screening Crimes of Passion. Deleted scenes are included along with the trailer and a booklet featuring new writings on the film, an interview with Russell and some of his correspondence with Kathleen Turner.