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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) on IMDb

Plot Overview

We're treated to some jazzy music at a gala event. Family man Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) is called upon to give a speech as he receives an award for his philanthropic efforts endowing the hospital and its new oph­thal­mology wing. He attributes his generous contri­bution to “answered prayers” of “a man of science raised quite religiously.” His father had told him, “The eyes of God are on us always.” His wife Miriam (Claire Bloom) passes off his nervousness as “stage fright. Really Judah, you were fine until you got home from work today.” A flash­back to earlier in the day shows him inter­cepting a letter from his mistress Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston) asking Mrs. Rosenthal to “meet one time” in an “open exchange to clear things up.” The gala ends with the orchestra playing, “Taking a Chance on Love.”

Judah hotfoots it over to Miss Paley's apartment to confront her. She complains that he's tied up “my whole life for 2½ years.” He offers the vague reassurance that, “We'll work some­thing out,” but he's not promising to leave his (good) wife.

The Rabbi Ben (Sam Waterston) suffering progressive vision loss goes to eye doctor Judah Rosenthal who confides to him his troubles with “an hysteric.” The rabbi invokes “some kind of higher power” and recommends confession to his wife and hoped-for forgiveness. Dolores threatens to expose Judah's opportunistic embezzlement. Judah's more practical and experienced brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) tells him, “You needs some dirty work done, she can be gotten rid of.”

The rabbi asks, “You don't think God sees?” Judah feels, “There is no other solution but Jack's, Ben.” Jack takes care of it and tells Judah, “Every­thing came out fine. Go back to your life and put it behind you.” Judah recalls from his child­hood his father's lecture at a seder: “The eyes of God see all. He sees the righteous and he sees the wicked.” He was told to “Be a mensch.” Judah is more familiar with Shakes­peare, “Murder will out.”


Judah remembers his father's words, “One sin leads to a deeper sin.” This thought was echoed by Jesus in visionary Maria Valtorta's account of, The Passover Supper: “And the feet of a man with an impure spirit go to orgies, to lust, to illicit business, to crimes … ” (255). Judah's feet first went to an orgy of vistas when he flew first class on a business trip, high above the earth, with drink in hand, far from his good wife and any prying eyes. He was far from his good father's influence, able to disregard, (Ex. 20:12) “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

There he met flight attendant Dolores Paley, flirted with her, and had an assignation, violating (Ex. 20:14) “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It became a regular habit and his wife was none the wiser.

Then when he suffered financial loss, all that endowment money he had access to became a temptation to cover his debts, so he "borrowed" it, to pay it back later with interest. He'd violated, (Ex. 20:15) “Thou shalt not steal.” And he got away with it.

Now when Dolores is threatening exposure unless he makes it right by her, his seedy brother offers him a solution that involves violating, (Ex. 20:13) “Thou shalt not kill.”

While “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is focused on this final step w.r.t the successful Mr. Rosenthal, there is another concurrent subplot exploring the other end of the sequence w.r.t struggling film­maker Clifford ‘Cliff’ Stern (Woody Allen.) He whiles away his after­noons in a visual orgy of movies he sees with his niece, starting with Alfred Hitchcock's “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and finishing with a private home viewing of “Singing in the Rain” seen with associate producer Halley Reed (Mia Farrow) of a documentary he's making of his blow­hard brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda.) He tells his niece, “Don't listen to what your teachers tell you … Just see what they look like and that's how you'll know what life is really gonna be like.” He starts making moves on Halley, going from one minor sin to one more serious.

The advice Judah Rosenthal's been given: “The eyes of God see all. He sees the righteous; he sees the wicked,” that theme is amply portrayed in scripture, e.g. (Prov. 15:3) “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” Cliff's camera captures a lot of “the evil” Lester doesn't want shown in his documentary. When he sees how Cliff has edited it in, he seizes control of the whole project and makes him­self look good. Judah comes through his crimes smelling like a rose. He and Cliff sit together at a party where we presume the “higher power”, i.e. God who sees all, is as unhappy with "respectable" Judah as Cliff is with his "respectable" bro-in-law.

Production Values

This film, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) was written and directed by Woody Allen. It stars Martin Landau, Woody Allen, and Bill Bernstein. Landau gives a great performance as a conflicted Judah. Caroline Aaron does well in a back­ground role as Cliff's sister. All the actors are good and Allen him­self is less of a paranoid nerd than we've come to expect. All the performances are professional, but the whole doesn't quite gel.

This film is rated PG–13. While Woody Allen's editing and directing are first rate, there's some­thing of his personal stamp on it that leaves me disquieted. I can't help but feel dirty after watching one of his pictures, though this one's rated as relatively clean. The cynical quips I could do with­out, and its tempo is what I would call New York nervousness.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This is a good Woody Allen film—aren't they all?—but still it's a Woody Allen film. You'll probably like it or hate it depending on how you like his others. Still, there were no big disappointments and it wasn't excessively long.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: No action, no adventure. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Better than watching TV. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: three and a half stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Valtorta, Maria. 598. The Passover Supper. in The Gospel as Revealed to Me. Vol. 5. Translated from Italian by Nicandro Picozzi, M.A., D.D.  Revised by Patrick McLaughlin, M.A. This 2nd English Edition has now replaced the First English Edition, The Poem of the Man-God. WEB.