Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Then Another Friday evening Leeds Metropolitan University viewing. In 1993, I think. Even then I could see that in producing a film every year Woody had developed a system of larger budget pieces with large casts and smaller chamber works, somehow managing to deal with huge themes on different scales. Spoilers ahead. Spoilers!

Now In Crimes and Misdemeanors, rather like the old sitcom Dream On, Woody employs old film clips to comment directly on the action, to show the differences and similarities between “fiction” and “reality”. His first and most interesting choice is Hitchcock’s Mr & Mrs Smith, which as we saw last year was that director’s only, not particularly successful, attempt at straight romantic comedy. Crimes is about similar genre games, devoting near equal screen time to a late Hitchcockian thriller and a romantic comedy and seeing if they can exist within the same universe.

In the Bjorkman interview Woody says that like Hannah and Her Sisters, he was being influenced by novels and mentions Tolstoy as a standard. But his experimentation goes deeper than that because he looks to see if it’s possible for the thriller to have a happy if morally ambiguous ending and the rom com to end in tragedy. Martin Landau’s happily married ophthalmologist Judah is adulterous and gets away with murder; Woody Allen’s unhappily married documentary maker Cliff thinks about adultery (a lot) and is rewarded with divorce, the suicide of his subject and a broken heart. The audience is left intellectually stimulated but not emotionally satisfied.

Something I did notice watching the film in sequence is how the relationship between Landau and Anjelica Houston’s air hostess patterns as the playing out of the Frederick/Lee coupling from Hannah, if she’d been less emotionally stable and he was more arrogant about his position in society. I don’t think Caine’s character was so ethically black that he would have even considered Judah’s “solution” but both films share the existential discussion of what a man is capable of, even if here, the internal discussion reserved for voiceover is played out against a backdrop of dream sequences and the return of the spectres of Another Woman.

Incidentally, this is the last of these three films photographed by Sven Nykvist in sequence. A few days ago, I made the rash statement that all of the cinematographers that followed Gordon Willis were to some extent following his lead. I still stand by that. Nykvist is more free with his camera work and longer scenes do take place in front of a camera which is moving about an environment more than Willis who tended to hold a shot for a period taking in a full space. More close-ups perhaps. But just as when he worked with Bergman the director’s vision had primacy, so the pallet and shapes in these three films aren’t that different. The colour pallet hasn’t shifted outrageously.

Cliff’s resulting hatchet job reminds me of the Yesterday’s Men, the satirical documentary about former PM Harold Wilson which was suppressed, though subsequently clips have been used elsewhere, one of which shows Wilson at a clifftop with a specially commissioned song by the scaffold "Yesterday's Men" playing over the top. Here's the key audio clip. People really don't like to be made fun of in what they think is going to be a serious portrayal, especially if they have no sense of humour about themselves.

Daryl Hannah plays an uncredited role as one of Alda’s conquests. Nora Ephron features in a speaking role and the film ends on voiceover with a series of clips from earlier on – was Woody homaging When Harry Met Sally back again? Crimes also has one of Woody’s best one-liners and certainly the most on the nose since Annie Hall. When his sister suggests that in marriage, “Once the sex goes, it all goes,” Cliff replies, “It’s true. The last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty.” If ever one of his jokes developed a life of its own! Often imitated, seldom bettered.

Now, and I’ve been waiting to do this, finally I can ask:

Who’s In It From Doctor Who?

Claire Bloom as Miriam Rosenthal:

Was The Woman/The Doctor's Mother/The Doctor's Daughter/Susan/The Rani/Flavia/Iris Wyldethyme/Jenny/Romana/whoever the hell she was in The End of Time

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