Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989): Woody Allen Inquisition into Nature of Evil

Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen’s masterful inquisition into the nature of evil, silenced those critics and fans that wished he would return to his outrageous (“Bananas”) or even romantic (“Annie Hall”) comedies of the 1970s.

Allen tackles morality and murder in a story about Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), an ophthalmologist esteemed by family, friends and colleagues. Judah has a less admirable life: His mistress, Dolores (Anjelica Huston) is determined to reveal their affair to his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom), and threatens to expose his past embezzling. Judah decides he has no choice but to have her killed and he does that with the help of his underworld-connected brother, Jack (Jerry Orbach).

Instead of taking a casually brutal approach, Allen dwells on the consequences of sin. But he doesn’t neglect humor, which resides in the relationships between a politically committed documentarian, Cliff Stern (played by Allen himself), his egotistical commercial TV director brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda) and a TV producer (Mia Frarow), with whom Cliff falls in love. In the film’s dark final scene, Judah and Cliff finally meet, both struggling with their ideas of right and wrong, morality and immorality, crimes and misdemeanors.

The stories run parallel, and Allen shows originality in interweaving the comedy with the melodrama, which some of his core fans found hard to accept. But there was no doubt that Allen’s intent in examining heavy themes like guilt and justice, and the arbitrary randomness of both phenomena, was serious.

Released by Orion and produced by Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” was nominated for three Oscars: for Director Allen, Supporting Actor Martin Landau, and Original Screenplay for Allen.  As director, Allen lost to Oliver Stone for “Born on the Fourth of July;” as writer, he lost to Tom Schulman for “Dead Poets Society.” Landau lost to Denzel Washington for “Glory.”

Oscar Nominations: 3

Director: Woody Allen

Screenplay (Original): Woody Allen

Supporting Actor: Martin Landau

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was Denzel Washington for “Glory.”


Written in 2005: Allen would revisit this film’s themes in his 2005 drama, “Match Point.” (See my review).


Barbara (Caroline Aaron)

Lester (Alan Alda)

Cliff Stern (Woody Allen)

Miriam Rosenthal (Claire Bloom)

Halley Reed (Mia Farrow)

Wendy Stern (Joanna Gleason)

Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston)

Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau)

Jenny (Jenny Nichols)

Jack Rosenthal (Jerry Orbach)