Blu-ray Misdemeanors

crimes.jpgWhile it is probably in truth not his best film, and as I’ve not seen all his films I’m certainly not best-qualified to judge anyway, but of all those that I have seen, Woody Allen’s 1989 crime drama Crimes and Misdemeanors remains my favourite. Having bought Arrow’s Blu-ray edition of the film back in September I have finally gotten around to watching it, the first time I have rewatched the film for many years (I think the last time was back on VHS).

The film holds up fantastically well, a sometimes sober and sometimes funny drama about relationships and guilt and crimes minor and terrible. Its the kind of thing that, back in the 1970s/1980s, certainly, Allen was very good at doing- small, intimate dramas that are as much ruminations of thought as much as they are entertainment. Crimes and Misdemeanors is fascinating and enlightening and has twists and turns and plenty to think about afterwards (always a sign of a good movie). I can well understand how it struck such a chord in me back when I first saw it on a VHS rental- I was always a sucker (still am, really) for any film that had Big Thoughts about the nature of existence, morality and God. Ironically I think I have to admit that what drew me towards it was the casting of Martin Landau, an actor who, back then, I really only knew from my childhood favourite Space:1999.  The opportunity to watch him in something else after that span of time was obviously a big draw.

The funny thing is, ever since, I have had a rather low opinion of Landau’s range as an actor. Its likely unfair of me as I still have never seen him in much of anything – Crimes and Misdemeanors, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood and Space:1999 is really just about it, so again, like in judging Allen’s filmography, I’m hardly really qualified.  Its just that, when I later returned to Space:1999 and its Blu-ray box set, it was clear that Landau was horribly miscast as Commander John Koenig (unless having a bumbling, zero-charm unfortunate beaurocrat in charge of a moonbase was deliberate). Reading that Landau and his then-wife and co-star Barbara Bain played the Hollywood prima donna game whilst making the series (Landau maintaining that he was only ever shot in profile from one side and that he often counted his lines and demanded script changes to ensure he was the ‘star’ each episode), while hardly making him anything unique, rather made him an actor I was less inclined to admire.

So anyway, rewatching Crimes and Misdemeanors, whatever my opinion of his limits as a character actor, it’s clear that this was a role that was perfect for Landau. He just nails it. Here is a man, successful Ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal, who is clearly loved and respected in his profession and community, who has led something of a double-life, having spent two years in an affair with a mistress and having managed some dubious financial practices with other people’s money to keep himself afloat. He projects this image of a nice, decent man and yet is a liar and cheat, both to his mistress who maintains that he made promises to her, and his wife and daughter and his colleagues in business. And he deceives himself as much as he does others, excusing his financial cheating as for the greater good and his affair as a foolish whim,  justifying his arranging his mistresses murder (to ensure her silence when she threatens to reveal everything to his wife) as a necessary evil to ensure the safety and comfort of his immediate family and all he has built up. When he feels guilt and the weight of his religious upbringing he has debates with a confidant, his brother and the ghosts of his father and old family, but it’s all about making his actions allowable and justifiable, not bringing himself to account. He lies to everyone, and himself and ultimately to God. But in a morally uncertain universe, is that such a crime? Especially when it eventually transpires that he gets away with it.

The Blu-ray looks terrific, especially upscaled to 4K on my OLED- the film has a lot of grain that adds great texture and detail to everything such as clothing and faces. There’s such a tangible sense of filmstock about it. I’m sure that it’s never looked better and that it really captures the ‘look’ of back when it was projected in cinemas. Revisiting old favourites after some time can always be a somewhat sobering experience but I’m glad to write that Crimes and Misdemeanors, my favourite Woody Allen film, remains one of my very favourite films of all. I certainly look forward to revisiting it again with this fine Blu-ray release.

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