Movie Matters – E05 – Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

[00:00:00] JC: Welcome to Just Curious Media. This is Movie Matters and I’m Jason Connell. Today, I’m talking about Crimes and Misdemeanors, the 1989 comedy/drama written & directed by Woody Allen. It’s 7.9 rating on IMDb and it’s 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

This captivating film is without a doubt one of Woody Allen’s best efforts.  It’s an alternately comical and dramatic examination of scruples as it follows two parallel storylines that manage to connect by the story’s end.

The dramatic story follows the exploits of Judah Rosenthal, a distinguished optometrist, played by the late Oscar-winning and brilliant character actor, Martin Landau. Despite the wonderful family life Judah has created, he’s been having an affair and is quite conflicted as he tries to break off the relationship with Dolores Paley, an obsessive, overly dependent woman played by another Oscar-winning actor, the delightful Angelica Huston. As the story unfolds Dolores begins to stalk Judah, by calling his office, his home, sending letters, and eventually threatening to blackmail him into being with her.  These scenes are so convincing and honestly disturbing in a Fatal Attraction kind of way.

Now being faced with this dilemma causes Judah, a non-religious man, to confide in one of his patients who happens to be a Rabbi. His character’s name is Ben and he’s played by the Oscar-nominated and talented Sam Waterston. These two share a few wonderful scenes together which also have some great irony as Ben is rapidly losing his eyesight and will eventually go blind while Judah is haunted by something his father always said, “The eyes of God are on us always.”

As things escalate Judah reluctantly calls on his mobster brother Jack for help, played by the late and always captivating Jerry Orbach. This further illustrates just how distraught Judah has become and honestly how great of an actor Landau is and was, who would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The comical story deals with under-achieving documentary filmmaker Cliff Stern, played by Woody Allen. His career barely has a pulse and his marriage to Wendy Stern, played by the wonderful Joanna Gleason, is on its last leg.  Now Wendy has two brothers who play an even bigger role in the film, one is Rabbi Ben, who is the one through-line connecting each story and the other is Lester, a pompous yet highly successful TV producer from LA, played by the Oscar-nominated and always sensational Alan Alda.

Lester takes pity on Cliff and hires him to direct a biography on his Emmy-winning career.  This pairs Cliff with Halley Reed, a sweet, warm and attractive producer played by the extraordinary Mia Farrow.  Naturally, this creates a love interest and more conflict for Cliff who meanwhile has taken a farcical approach to his new project, thus making Lester look like a buffoon.  The early cut of the film is hysterical and the way it’s presented is also quite memorable as Lester & Cliff are together in a screening room. Cliff looks on with constant and quiet laughter while Lester is literally in a state of shock.  Obviously this doesn’t sit well with the Hollywood mogul who has no real connection to Cliff but coincidentally also has his sights on Halley, which creates even more humor.

As both stories begin to wind down they do eventually intersect and there’s a wonderful scene with Judah & Cliff at Ben’s daughter’s wedding, which coincidentally is represented on the film’s official poster.  It’s a great ending sequence for such a well-crafted and engaging film that holds up with each viewing.  It’s also no surprise that Woody Allen would go on to be nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Director and the other for Best Original Screenplay. The film would also go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Picture.

Now a few fun facts:

Oscar-nominated writer, Nora Ephron & Oscar-winning actress, Mercedes Ruehl, both play Wedding guests in the film’s finale.  Needless to say, that puts the Oscar count at an all-time high.

After viewing the first cut of the film, Woody Allen decided to throw out the first act, call back the actors for reshoots, and focus on what turned out to be the central and dramatic story. 

Additionally, Alan Alda was only supposed to appear in the opening party scene with Daryl Hannah.  However, Woody Allen expanded his role after enjoying Alda’s improvisation in that scene.  He then wrote Alda’s part as they went along which went on to be a key component in the comical story.

Woody Allen has said that “Crimes And Misdemeanors is about people who don’t see. They don’t see themselves as others see them. They don’t see the right and wrong situations, and that was a strong metaphor in the movie”. 

So I highly recommend watching this movie for the first time or to revisit it.  And please feel free to tell me what you think.  You can contact me directly through our Instagram, which is @Movie__Matters.  So thank you so much for listening and I’d greatly appreciate it if you could subscribe, rate & review the show wherever you get your podcasts.  You can also stream every episode, as well as our other shows, from our website which is JustCuriousMedia.com. 

So without further ado, please enjoy Crimes And Misdemeanors.

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