In two seperate stories of adultery; a New York doctor resorts to desperate measures to cover up his long-term adulterous affair. An unhappily married documentary filmmaker fights an adulterous temptation while making his latest movie on a TV producer.
On paper, Crimes And Misdemeanors doesn’t exactly play like a big fat barrel of laughs. Respected pillar of the community has hysterical lover bumped off, big questions about God and morals and right and wrong and all that sort of existential tackle are promptly raised and then, er, it’s all tied up neatly at the end.
Thankfully, the task of blowing all this potentially dullsville material up on to the screen is in the hands of Woody Allen.
This is, in effect, two movies for the price of one. The first follows the fortunes of eye specialist Judah Rosenthal (Landau) as he attempts to shake off the increasingly unwanted passion of mistress Dolores (Huston), a passion that threatens to destroy the cosy well-appointed life of Judah and his inevitably tight-knit Jewish family and circle of dinner party friends.
The second tracks the typically shambolic career and love life of failed TV documentary maker Clifford (Allen), as he attempts to woo Mia Farrow by a mixture of afternoon trips to the cinema and thinly-concealed antagonism towards ghastly brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda in his finest hour to date).
These two apparently separate threads are superbly woven together by Allen through the character of rabbi Sam Waterston, brother of Lester and confidant of the desperate Judah.
Aside from the formidable feat of managing to address such vast issues as murder, retribution and original sin and making it seem like a fun kind of thing to talk about, what makes Crimes And Misdemeanors such a rare treat is the sheer quality of performance on display and the memorable dialogue that makes this such a delight. “The last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty,” cracks Woody in his undisputed role as king of the schmucks.
And, later, “A man defecated on my sister,” he says, bewildered, to the wife he hasn’t slept with in over a year. “Well, I have to get up at seven,” she replies, turning over, as people always do. Lovely.
The little man again proves to be an absolute master at injecting sufficient wit, intelligence and compassion to make the end product a marvellously entertaining and provocative piece of work.