Crimes & Misdemeanours is often cited as one of Woody Allen’s very best films, and it was his final film of the ’80s, a decade during which he experimented with the kind of films he made more than any other. It was released after two Ingmar Bergman homages—September and Another Woman—and his segment in the anthology film New York Stories. It ended up becoming a huge critical hit but making slightly less than its budget at the box-office. However, due to a strong video release it became a success for Allen in the end.
Given the film’s title, you might guess that it shares similarities with Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, with the main concept the question of whether you can live with yourself if you have committed the act of murder. It’s a theme Allen would come back to in his woefully overrated Match Point and criminally underrated Cassandra’s Dream and the more recent Irrational Man. It’s also quite possibly the most perfect melding of tragedy and comedy in Allen’s entire filmography.
The film tells two separate but simultaneous stories. Woody plays the documentary filmmaker Clifford Stern, who is infatuated with an another woman despite being married. The filmmaker is currently making a documentary about a TV producer while he tries to resist the temptations. The other story concerns the well-to-do New York doctor Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), who is having an affair. Eventually, Rosenthal’s brother takes a hit out on the woman so he can save his marriage, but ends up in a state of guilt. Eventually these characters cross paths in the film’s climax.
Woody Allen had not been this good as an actor since Stardust Memories, if not Annie Hall. It also marked the revitalizing of Martin Landau’s career which, of course, would culminate in a much-deserved Oscar for Ed Wood. The supporting cast is also excellent across the board: it’s Angelica Huston’s first of two collaborations with Woody Allen and Alan Alda’s first as well. Alda would work with Allen a couple more times in the ’90s. The cast even includes legendary actress Claire Bloom and more Allen regulars like his then-girlfriend Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston.
Crimes & Misdemeanours remains one of many high points of Allen’s ’80s output. It has the right amount of existentialist angst, but also has the funny punch lines which it needs. It even works as a half-decent thriller at times, which isn’t necessarily Allen’s strong point, even though the similar Cassandra’s Dream deserves a second shot. With this excellent cast and Allen at his very best as a director, writer and actor, this re-release is very welcome.