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Laramie Movie Scope:
Crimes and Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors and punishment

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 12, 1990 -- Woody Allen's latest film ``Crimes and Misdemeanors'' is one of his finest-crafted films, filled with fine performances, but it is also quite depressing.

On the surface, it is a film about the assumed lack of a moral order in the universe and how each of us deals with the moral choices we have made. On a level below the surface it is an examination of traditional and modern morality.

A wealthy and successful ophthalmologist, beautifully played by Martin Landau, has an extramarital affair and when he tries to break it off, his girlfriend threatens to ruin his marriage and career, so he arranges to have her killed.

In the other vignette within the film a struggling filmmaker, played by Allen, tries to have an extramarital affair with a film producer played by Mia Farrow, but loses her heart to a successful but shallow Hollywood director played by Alan Alda.

After Landau has his girlfriend killed he is wracked by guilt. His childhood fears of the wrath of God come flooding back. But he is not caught, his life goes on and he learns to live with his guilt.

Allen, on the other hand, is crushed when Farrow falls for Alda, who is handsome, charming, wealthy and powerful, everything that Woody is not. Not only that, but his hero, a Jewish intellectual of great warmth and wisdom, commits suicide. The universe is not just.

What are we to make of all this. It is hardly the first time that someone has suggested the universe is inherently amoral, that there is no wrath of God, or that nice guys usually finish last.

In the ``real world'' as Woody phrases it, you do what's necessary to get what you want. Landau is willing to do what is necessary to save his marriage and his career. Woody is unwilling to compromise his principals and he pays the price for his choice, but Landau must also pay the price for his choice.

Woody does not even poke fun at the upstanding Jewish Rabbi in the movie who loses his sight. In fact, Woody is envious of those people who have a firm belief in God and faith in a universal moral order. For them, the choices may not be any easier, but at least they are clear.

Woody Allen's character is cast adrift on a sea of moral uncertainty in the film and he comes up with no answers. If he rejects the morality of the Talmud and the Old Testament and his Jewish upbringing, then upon what moral foundation is he to base his choices?

If you eliminate the conscience and guilt based on childhood teachings then what is to keep anyone from sinking deeper and deeper into crime and genuine sociopathic behaviors? That is a question scarcely asked and never answered in the film.

Woody clings to his guilt and fears, while rejecting the childhood teachings of Judaism on which they are based, that is his rather imperfect answer to his personal moral dilemma in the film.

As you can probably guess, this is not really an upbeat film, even though there are some very funny lines in it. In fact, it is positively depressing compared to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic book on the same subject, ``Crime and Punishment.''

Hollywood often gives us morality plays where correct behavior is rewarded and criminal behavior is punished. We are comfortable with that. It reaffirms positive beliefs.

Woody Allen does not let us get off so easy. ``Crimes and Misdemeanors'' is troubling and thought-provoking and somewhat depressing. If you want to see a well-crafted, well-acted, well-photographed and well-edited film that will have you thinking about it for at least a few days after you see it, this is for you. Personally, it wasn't what I was looking for. On a scale of one to 10, this film rates a six.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)