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If it bends its funny, if it breaks it isn't. Allen's best!,
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This review is from: Crimes and Misdemeanors (DVD)
`Crimes and Misdemeanors' written and directed by Woody Allen may very well be Allen's best film to date. It is a straight drama with intermixed humor. It has no parody or self-reference like `Stardust Memories', it has no gimmicks like `Annie Hall', and it is not leadenly serious like `Interiors'. While this does not necessarily make it a better movie, it has what seems to be the largest `name' cast of all Allen's works, even though he is able to attract `name' actors like flies to honey. It even has a real plot where events early in the movie create situations to which you expect a resolution by the time the credits roll.
There is a very neat symmetry between two parallel series of events in the movie. The parallelism and it's nature are signaled by the title and the promise is realized far better than other works with similar titles. The liner notes compare the subject in this movie with `Love and Death', but I think the comparison is strained at best. The real issues in this movie are guilt and loss.
The Crime is the murder of Landau's mistress (Angelica Houston) arranged by Landau's brother (Jerry Orbach), a gangster with access to contract killers. The motive for the murder is fact that the mistress has become impatient in her expectation that Landau will leave his wife (Claire Bloom) and threatens to reveal the infidelity to Bloom and the world. What makes the risk to Landau even greater is that he is a very successful and wealthy doctor of ophthalmology who has contributed much to local hospitals and other charities.
The Misdemeanor is the dalliance of Allen's character with his assistant (Mia Farrow) while his marriage with wife Joanna Gleason is souring. The connection between Allen and Landau is based on the fact that one of Gleason's brothers is a rabbi (Sam Waterston) who is going blind and is being treated by Ophthalmologist Landau. The misdemeanor plot is enriched by Gleason's other brother, a highly successful television producer gloriously played with great ambiguity by Alan Alda's slipping between attractive and unattractive traits as easily as a duck takes to water.
Allen is a marginally successful documentary filmmaker whose great ambition is to do a documentary on the life of a philosopher (probably a professor at NYU, loosely based perhaps on Sydney Hook). He is hooked up with Alda's TV producer to do a biographical documentary on the producer's career for PBS. Alda recommends Allen to PBS only as a favor to his sister.
While the events leading to the `Crime' causes intense guilt and remorse on the part of Landau, his connection to the crime goes undetected by the police and he wakes up one morning with his sense of guilt lifted from his shoulders. The irony is that Allen's trivial misdemeanor is published by his loosing his wife, loosing his contract to do the documentary for the producer, and loosing his potential romantic interest (Farrow) to Alda.
I'm reluctant to give away much more of the plots, but I will say that the events are shot through with this kind of irony, including the fact that while Landau gets off Scott free, the rabbi, a totally virtuous character, goes blind. On top of this, the two principles are depicted in such a way that you admire the criminal, Landau and feel little sympathy for his victim or the inept, nebbish filmmaker who gets the short end of the stick from all his colleagues and relatives.
And through all of this, there is a finely crafted vein of humor, including a little aphorism from Alda on the nature of humor when he says that `If it bends, its funny. If it breaks, it's not'.
This movie twists and turns and bends and threatens to break, and never does. Truly one of Allen's best!.
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Initial post: Dec 5, 2015 11:58:37 PM PST
Paul R. Frommer says:
This is indeed a great, great film, and I'm glad you appreciate it. But when you say you're reluctant to give away more of the plot . . . well, you've already given away virtually everything!
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