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CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Susan E. Morse; cast: Martin Landau (Judah Rosenthal), Woody Allen (Cliff Stern), Mia Farrow (Halley Reed), Alan Alda (Lester), Anjelica Huston (Dolores Paley), Claire Bloom (Miriam Rosenthal), Joanna Gleason (Wendy Stern), Sam Waterston (Ben), Jerry Orbach (Jack Rosenthal), Jenny Nichols (Jenny),Martin Bergmann (Prof. Louis Levy), Stephanie Roth (Sharon Rosenthal), Caroline Aaron (Barbara, Woody’s sister); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Robert Greenhut; MGM;1989)
Using the paper-thin lead characters as symbols to show how blind people are about themselves and their relationships has little gravitas, but the comedy is stinging.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The overall “philosophical” musings—that God is a creation of man, that life is unjust, that good guys finish last and that crime often pays—seems to be arrived at in too much of a superficial way, in this ambitious Woody Allen (“Zelig”/”Sleeper”/”Bananas”) written, directed and starring attempt to combine tragedy and comedy through parallel stories. It’s nevertheless both intriguing and entertaining–with the comedy part being much superior to the pseudo-intellectual dramatics. Using the paper-thin lead characters as symbols to show how blind people are about themselves and their relationships has little gravitas, but the comedy is often stinging. There are zany one-liners, such as Woody telling his adolescent niece Jenny “never to listen to teachers, just look at them and you’ll know everything you ever wanted to know.”

At a prestigious testimonial dinner, successful Manhattan ophthalmologist and noted philanthropist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) is being honored for his life achievements and for being a mensch. But Judah is worried that his hysterical flight attendant mistress of the last two years, Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston), will follow through with her threat to meet his wife of twenty-five years, Miriam (Claire Bloom), and ruin his life by telling of the relationship and demanding that he marry her as promised. The anxiety-driven Judah first turns to his best friend, Ben (Sam Waterston), a rabbi patient going blind, for advice, and then in greater desperation to his gangster connected brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) for help when the mistress also threatens to expose his embezzlement of the charities. Jack advises Judah to let him arrange for this problem to go away permanently by taking out a contract hit on his mistress, something Judah reluctantly agrees to and then is guilt-stricken when the hit is carried out. When Judah gets away with both the misdemeanor and the crime, he returns to the orthodox Jewish ways his father preached at the seders by trying to find a morality in the world through an unknown God that knows all and in his own way will not let the guilty off the hook even if they are not punished in the real world.

The interwoven story has the unhappily married man (hasn’t slept with his wife for a year) and unsuccessful low-budget documentary filmmaker, Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), get hired to make a fluff big-budget tribute documentary on his obnoxious conceited millionaire brother-in-law Lester (Robert Alda), a famous schlock Hollywood producer of sitcoms. Lester can’t stand Cliff, but hires him under pressure from his sister Wendy (Joanna Gleason) who is embarrassed that hubby has been out of work for so long. The documentary on how wonderful a person Lester is, rubs Cliff the wrong way. But during the shoot, Cliff thinks he’s found romance with a soul mate in the divorced PBS associate producer on the project, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), who seems to share his love of films and life philosophies. Cliff rationalizes that he sold-out in order to get money to make a serious doc on the Jewish intellectual Professor Louis Levy. But things go awry for Cliff when he gets fired for cutting shots between Lester and a wildly posturing Mussolini. The final injustice for Cliff, was that he was too blind to see his dream girl Halley getting together romantically with the boss he hates.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”