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Most of us would not typically choose to work on our vacations, but Woody Allen can hardly be called typical. Leaving one screenplay barely begun, Woody left for a tour of Europe in the summer of 1988. It wasn't long before another script idea popped into his head. Rather than abandon the earlier idea, Woody decided to combine the two scripts into one and began scribbling a new screenplay on the stationery of the various hotels at which he stayed. The collection of drafts imprinted with the logos of Stockholm's Grand Hotel, the Villa d'Este on Lake Como, the Gritti Palace in Venice and Claridge's in London became the basis for one of Woody's most popular and critically acclaimed movies.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) tells a dark and dramatic story balanced by a slighter comic one that reinforces the main tale's ideas. Martin Landau (Tucker , Ed Wood ) is Judah Rosenthal, a married ophthalmologist having an affair with a flight attendant (Anjelica Huston). When she threatens to expose him if he doesn't marry her, Judah becomes desperate and turns to his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) for help. Jack proposes to make Judah's problem go away by making his mistress go away, permanently. This easy but horrifying answer to his problems leads Judah to remember his religious upbringing. His father had told him that the eyes of God were always upon him. If Judah is party to such a great crime, what will God's answer be?
In the accompanying story, Cliff Stern (Woody Allen) is a low-budget documentary filmmaker who despises Lester (Alan Alda), his shallow but successful brother-in-law. The latter offers him the chance of a lifetime: to helm a big-budget documentary about Lester's wonderful life. Will Cliff sell out even if it gives him the power to finish his more important work or will he stay pure though a honorable failure?
As Woody later explained, "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."
Crimes and Misdemeanors went through more changes than any other Woody Allen movie. A variety of titles were proposed and rejected including "Brothers," dropped because of a similarly-titled television show and "High Crimes And Misdemeanors" which Woody thought sounded too much like Gilbert and Sullivan. After shooting, Woody found that major subplots didn't work and brought the cast and crew back for ten days of re-shooting. Lost were an entire section with Mia Farrow as a married social worker in an old age home (she became a television producer in the final film) and a scene at the end where Cliff is caught behind a curtain with an aspiring actress played by Sean Young.
The extra effort paid off both at the box office and in the critics' reviews. Crimes and Misdemeanors made $19.6 million dollars in the U.S., more than any Woody Allen movie after 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters. The film received three Academy Award nominations, two to Woody for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay and one to Martin Landau for Best Supporting Actor. Alan Alda won the Best Supporting Actor award from both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle and Woody won the Writers Guild of America award for Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen.
The accolades didn't impress Woody, however. Asked how he felt about the praise heaped upon this film he responded, "When I put out a film that enjoys any acceptance that isn't the most mild or grudging, I immediately become suspicious of it. A certain amount of positive response makes me feel comfortable and proud. Then beyond that, I start to feel convinced that a work of any real finesse and subtlety and depth couldn't be as popular as it is." Told that a party of Hollywood celebrities had a private screening of Crimes and Misdemeanors and raved about it, Woody responded "I know I must be doing something wrong if my film is being viewed in some Hollywood character's screening room and a group of people there are saying, 'It's his best film,' when many of the things I attack are what they stand for."
Producer: Robert Greenhut
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Production Design: Santo Loquasto
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Costume Design: Jeffrey Kurland
Film Editing: Susan E. Morse
Art Direction: Speed Hopkins
Principal Cast: Martin Landau (Judah Rosenthal), Woody Allen (Cliff Stern), Mia Farrow (Halley Reed), Alan Alda (Lester), Anjelica Huston (Dolores Paley), Claire Bloom (Miriam Rosenthal), Joanna Gleason (Wendy Stern), Sam Waterston (Ben), Jerry Orbach (Jack Rosenthal).
by Brian Cady