By Alec Horowitz
Woody Allen’s 1989 film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a film about our belief in God and why it doesn’t seem to stop us from committing sins. Judah (Martin Landau) is an example of a man who uses what society gives him to look like a moral man. He is a respected doctor and a pillar of the community. He makes a speech, everyone claps and comments on the donations he’s given to charities. He’s a respected figure, of which friends and family look to with the highest moral regard. Ironically, though, Martin does charitable things to make his image look good in the community. The things he does in private are the things that would really hurt and perhaps even those he destroys. When his mistress Dolores (Angjelica Huston) starts to send him letters, he becomes concerned for the first time in a while about his moral image that isn’t shown to the community. Martin tells a Rabbi that his wife, Miriam “won’t forgive him” because she idealizes him. A tragic story starts to unroll about how Judah starts to dig him self deeper and deeper into sinful behavior and the toll it has on him.
A memorable scene is when Judah is driving his car through a bridge. The camera zooms into the bridge, which quickly cuts to a Jewish temple inside Judah’s mind. Woody Allen also has another story taking place in this film, which I suppose would be the misdemeanor. Judah is the one guilty of the crime. He laces a light romantic comedy into the dark drama. Well, as close to a romantic comedy, and ‘light’ is all in relative terms when it comes to Woody Allen. Woody plays a filmmaker named Cliff whose marriage isn’t working out, and his desire to enter a relationship with another one (Mia Fallow) who works for Cliff’s brother and law, Lester (Alan Alda). Lester is the idealization of every Woody Allen finds evil about show business, a multi millionaire who Cliff has to make a documentary about in order to play some bills. Lester has made millions from his light weight sitcoms.
The two stories about two people who really have nothing do to with each other is also used in the other classic Allen picture, ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’, a film that many including critic Roger Ebert wanted to be the first picture nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is special though, and might be the greatest screenplay ever penned in my opinion. I have always felt Woody Allen was the greatest screenwriter of the 20th century, and to quote Ebert, “the poet of New York City”.
There are so many memorable scenes in this dark drama/comedy. A rabbi goes blind, perhaps due to his own faith. Judah confronts his mistress in the rain, at a Shell gas station. Judah’s brother offers to have his mistress taken out. Things go wrong, and they go wrong. They don’t really go right. This isn’t that kind of film. This is such a complex film. It’s so many facets, like a good novel. The thing with Woody Allen films is often the smaller scene he has in his films. In one scene, Cliff goes to visit his sister, who is a widow. After Cliff takes her daughter out for the day, when sitting alone with Cliff, she confuses she went out on a date with a man who defecated on her. Cliff is repulsed, and shows shock, but we see the moral good in Cliff. The scene shows Cliff cares about something, and so does his work documenting a holocaust savior.
Perhaps this film can be best summed up by the most famous line said by Lester as sits on a bench in a park in New York. He looks at the camera, and smugly explains why he is so successful at making people laugh. “Comedy is tragedy plus time”. That explains an important element of this film, though the line that has stayed with me the longest is when Judah is talking to the rabbi and rabbi asks him about his morals and a higher power. Judah looks at him as it starts to rain outside. This is Woody Allen's morality play, where he dares to ask the question of if morality is really rewarded or is immorality the one who is rewarded? We have two men. One more moral than the other and two different stories.The wealthy New York City doctor says, “God is a luxury I can’t afford”.