Blu-ray Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors has debuted in high definition with a limited Blu-ray release, courtesy of specialty label Twilight Time. First released to cinemas in 1989, it’s one of the more confoundingly over-praised of his career. Allen received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, while co-star Martin Landau was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It continues to be held in high regard by many Allen aficionados, though it’s difficult to see why considering it was released during an era in which the filmmaker was so consistently inspired. Though intermittently interesting, this film pales beside the best of Allen’s ‘80s work, including Hannah and Her Sisters, Broadway Danny Rose, and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

The main problem is that Crimes tries to weld two separate stories together that don’t complement each other. Allen seems to believe that together they work as a unified whole, but they instead come across like unrelated, under-developed scraps. Landau plays Judah Rosenthal, a married ophthalmologist who can’t find a way out of his affair with flight attendant Dolores (Anjelica Huston). He’s even considering criminal solutions (encouraged by his brother, who happens to have mob ties). A man who makes his living ensuring his patients can see clearly has allowed his own vision to become symbolically clouded. He even seeks the advice of one of those patients, a rabbi (Sam Waterston) with macular degeneration (or something along those lines). The religious man, the one with supposedly clear moral vision, can no longer see. Unfortunately that’s really the extent of the depth of Allen’s artistic vision for this particular plot line.

Crimes cover TMR.jpgMeanwhile, in the lighter half of the story, Allen plays documentary filmmaker Cliff Stern. Cliff has marital troubles of his own, stuck in a loveless marriage and pining after a producer, Halley (Mia Farrow), with whom he recently began working. The project is a profile piece on a pompous Hollywood TV producer, his wife’s brother Lester (Alan Alda). Cliff has been laboring independently over a film about a philosopher. Once he cements a somewhat closer relationship with Halley, he attempts to get her interested in funding the project. His heart isn’t in the piece about Lester and he isn’t afraid to show it.

The Cliff/Halley half, though decidedly more typical for Allen, is the one that deserved more refining and expansion. The actors involved in this storyline, particularly Farrow and Alda, are believable and grounded in reality. The Landau side, taken on its own, is insufferably pretentious. However capable the actors are, they’re all saddled with stilted, unnatural dialogue that makes it impossible for them to properly establish their characters. Apparently, Allen significantly rethought the film’s structure during the editing process, resulting in a need for reshooting and excessive cutting of footage included in the initial cut. He didn’t go far enough, as the Dostoyevsky-inspired pseudo-profundities of the Landau half are a poor match for the rest of the film.

From a visual standpoint, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is a marked improvement over the original DVD. Clarity and detail in Sven Nykvist’s warm, amber-tinged cinematography is greatly improved. If there’s anything to gripe about, there are some minor print flaws in the form of white flecks. However, these are infrequent and don’t do much to detract from an overall solid presentation. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack does exactly what it needs to: provide distortion-free dialogue, music, and effects. Again, it’s a notable upgrade from the previous DVD edition.

Unsurprisingly considering Woody Allen’s track record, there’s very little in the way of supplements here. In keeping with well-established Twilight Time tradition, there is a music-only track (or, more specifically in this case, a music and effects track) that will probably only be useful to students of film scoring. Also customary for TT, Julie Kirgo contributes a thoughtful essay for the Blu-ray booklet.

As with all entries in the Twilight Time Limited Edition Series, Crimes and Misdemeanors is strictly limited to a 3,000 copy run. To order this release while supplies last, visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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