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Film / Crimes and Misdemeanors

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"God is a luxury I can't afford."
Judah Rosenthal

Crimes and Misdemeanors is a 1989 Dramedy written by, directed by, and starring Woody Allen. It's one of his most critically-acclaimed works.

The film follows two stories: the "A" story (the Crime) is about Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a successful ophthalmologist and active philanthropist, struggling to break free of a mistress who wants him to leave his family for her. The "B" story (the Misdemeanor) is about Cliff Stern (Allen), a documentary filmmaker who finds popular culture and materialism repellent. Rosenthal is forced to make a fateful decision by his insistent mistress Dolores (Anjelica Huston), while Stern, hopeful to complete his masterwork, agrees to profile his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), a wealthy and successful television producer Stern considers shallow and crass, and finds himself falling for Lester's assistant Halley (Mia Farrow).

Tropes appearing in Crimes and Misdemeanors include:

  • Author Avatar: As usual, Woody's character is a Deadpan Snarker with relationship issues.
  • Big Brother Worship: Cliff's wife Wendy is Lester's sister. It's unclear which is the older sibling, but Wendy greatly admires her brother.
  • Black Sheep: Jack with his mafia connections and various legal/financial troubles is clearly this to his family, especially when compared to the successful, high class Judah. Jack is aware of this when Judah comes running to him with a problem that won't go away.
  • Body Motifs: The eyes. Judah's father, a religious man, was fond of saying that "The eyes of God are on us always" when Judah was a boy. Judah grew up and became an opthamologist. Judah's rabbi went blind right about the same time Judah had Dolores killed. When Judah visited the scene of the crime, he found Dolores dead but with her eyes still open. He took a moment to close them.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • Lester outright tells Cliff that he only is hiring him out of pity and as a favor to his sister.
    • Almost all interactions between Judah and Jack. Jack bluntly declares that his brother only calls him when needs some dirty work done.
  • Cool Uncle: Cliff is this to Jenny.
  • Covers Always Lie: The image most commonly used for this film shows Martin Landau and Woody Allen sitting next to each other. In fact, their characters share exactly one scene.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cliff, like most of Woody Allen's alter ego characters.
  • Death Seeker: Arguably Dolores. She repeatedly threatens to ruin Judah's life both personally (by revealing their affair to his wife) and professionally (by letting his partners know of his embezzlement). Assuming she knows of his gangster brother, it's not hard to guess what he might resort to. Could also qualify as an Idiot Ball if she wasn't deliberately seeking death.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Despite their close friendship, Halley isn't interested in a romantic relationship with Cliff. Even worse, she's successfully seduced by Lester, who Cliff utterly despises.
  • Dies Wide Open: Dolores. Her dead eyes pierce through Judah's soul.
  • Driven to Suicide: Cliff's favorite documentary subject, a professor who seems to have a sunny outlook on life, kills himself. Cliff is especially depressed about his suicide note: "I've gone out the window."
  • Gallows Humor: Honestly, a story about a man whom Cliff's sister meets through a personal ad and debases her and might have raped her shouldn't be funny - but it's hilarious.
  • Heel Realization:
  • Hidden Depths: For all his shallowness, Lester can finish the poem quoted.
  • Idiot Ball: Cliff is offered a high-paying, high-profile job by his arrogant but well-connected brother-in-law Lester to create a hagiographic documentary that could potentially lead to more lucrative work. Instead, he deliberately sabotages it by comparing the egocentric Lester to Mussolini, getting himself fired.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Judah uses this as a personal mantra as an excuse for killing Dolores. Jack calls him out on it on several points: Judah could have avoided everything by taking responsibility for his actions, and when Judah goes through handwringing, Jack dryly tells him he obviously has no problem with killing Dolores, since why else would he ask a mob connected brother to help him with the problem that if exposed, exposes Jack's criminal connections? Jack basically says Judah feels bad about not feeling bad about what he's doing.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Judah realizes what he's doing is morally bankrupt, and agonizes over it, then just shrugs and basically says I Am a Monster and a Villain with Good Publicity and lives with it.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Cliff's niece seems to be one of the few people in his life who likes and respects him. Everyone else either dismisses him or treats him with condescending pity.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • While Lester is indeed an arrogant and narcissistic egotist, he's also spot-on when he calls Cliff a loser and says that he needs to grow up. Cliff's attitude has made it all but impossible for him to be gainfully employed.
    • Cliff's wife is a cold and unpleasant woman who treats her husband with utter contempt and disgust. At least some of her contempt towards Cliff is justified by his lack of gainful employment and general inability to get his act together.
  • Karma Houdini: Judah isn't even suspected of having his mistress murdered, let alone punished.
  • Large Ham: Lester.
  • Loser Protagonist: Cliff. Or rather, loser Deuteragonist, since the other half of the film concerns the largely unconnected story of the very successful (but criminal) Judah.
  • Magic Realism: Judah has conversations with imaginary manifestations of both Ben and his family.
  • Meaningful Name: Dolores spends most of the movie severely depressed. "Dolores" means "sorrows".
  • The Mistress: Dolores.
  • Mood Whiplash: From tragedy to comedy and back again.
  • My Card: Detective: "If you remember anything that might help..."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Judah experiences this, but he gets over it.
  • Not So Above It All: The outwardly respectable and high-class Judah turns out to be not so morally different from his gangster brother Jack.
  • Ominous Legal Phrase Title: From part of the formal definition of an impeachable offense in US law; originating in UK law but obsolete there due to impeachments no longer being used.
  • A Rare Sentence:
    Cliff: A strange man... defecated on my sister.
  • Serial Numbers Filed Off: invoked Lester is basically Larry Gelbart, whom Woody Allen and Alan Alda had both worked with and weren't enamored of. The quotes Lester makes like "Comedy is tragedy plus time"? Gelbart constantly prattled those aphorisms on the set of M*A*S*H and elsewhere. Also falls under the No Celebrities Were Harmed trope.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The Central Theme of the film, and basically what Judah tells Cliff when Cliff suggests a Happy Ending for the "story" Judah tells him (which he doesn't know is actually a confession).
    Judah: What do you expect him to do? Turn himself in? I mean, this is reality. In reality, we rationalise, we deny, or we couldn't go on living.
    Cliff: Here's what I would do. I would have him turn himself in. 'Cause then, you see, your story assumes tragic proportions because, in the absence of a God, he is forced to assume that responsibility himself. Then you have tragedy.
    Judah: But that's fiction. That's movies. You see too many movies. I'm talkin' about reality. I mean, if you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Woody's previous film Hannah and Her Sisters. Hannah ends optimistically with life being worth living even if you will never know the answers to the greatest questions. In contrast this film ends with the brutal and shocking nihilism that as Roger Ebert put it, "virtue is punished and evil doing is rewarded."
  • Take That!: Cliff, to Lester. Cliff screens his profile doc for Lester, who is treated to seeing himself making a sleazy pass at an actress and hearing his words set to footage of Benito Mussolini and Francis The Talking Mule. Lester was not amused.
  • This Loser Is You: Cliff is a posterboy for the idealistic artist who lacks the maturity and practical sense to realize that he can't support himself financially with his own pet projects. He quit his previous job as a newsreel editor and intentionally sabotaged an opportunity reluctantly given to him by his brother-in-law, and all he has to show for his stubbornness and lack of income is an honorable mention at a local film festival. In the end, Cliff's pig-headed, misplaced ideals put him in a place in life where nobody except his twelve year-old niece likes his company or takes him seriously.
  • Un-Confession: Judah indirectly confesses to having his mistress murdered when talking to Cliff, by telling it as a fictional story about a fictional person.
  • Villain Has a Point: Jack tells Judah that the right time to confess was to his wife about his affair before any actual crimes were committed, not to the the police after having his inconvenient mistress murdered.
  • Villain Protagonist: Judah, technically the villian Deuteragonist because half of the film focuses on his story, the other on the non-villainous (but rather pitiful) Cliff.
  • Villain with Good Publicity:
    • Judah hired a hitman to get rid of his mistress and probably embezzled money from the charity that he ran to cover his own debts. Judah keeps his dark side well-hidden, so he's adored by his family and remains highly respected by his colleagues and local community.
    • Lester is a sleazeball, womanizing, tyrannical TV producer with vapid "insights" into comedy. But he's got a "closet full of Emmys" is giving lectures to Ivy League schools, classes are taught analyzing his work, and he has a documentary being made about him.
  • Yandere: Dolores.