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Crimes and Misdemeanors

original movie poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Martin Landau
Woody Allen
Mia Farrow
Alan Alda
Anjelica Huston
Jerry Orbach
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Editing by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date(s) 13 October 1989
Running time 107 min.
Language English
Budget $13,000,000
Gross revenue $18,254,702 (USA)

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) is a black comedy written, directed by and co-starring Woody Allen, alongside Martin Landau, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Orbach, Alan Alda, Sam Waterston and Joanna Gleason. The film was met with critical acclaim and was nominated for the following Academy Awards:



The film is set in New York City and follows two main characters: Judah Rosenthal (Landau), a successful ophthalmologist, and Cliff Stern (Allen), a struggling documentary filmmaker. The two men are each confronted with moral crises.

Judah's crisis concerns his affair with a flight attendant Dolores Paley (Huston). After it becomes clear to her that Judah will not end his marriage, Dolores, scorned, attempts to inform his wife of their affair. Dolores' letter to his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom) is intercepted and destroyed by Judah, but she sustains the pressure on him with her threats of revelation. She is also aware of some questionable financial moves Judah has made.

Early in the film, he confides in a patient, Ben (Waterston), a rabbi who is rapidly losing his eyesight. Ben advises openness and honesty between Judah and his wife, but Judah does not wish to imperil his marriage.

Desperate, Judah turns to his brother, Jack (Orbach), who hires a hitman to kill Dolores. Later, before her corpse is discovered, Judah retrieves letters and other items from her apartment in order to cover his tracks. Stricken with guilt though, Judah turns to the religious teachings he had rejected, believing for the first time that a just God is watching him and passing judgement.

Cliff, meanwhile, has been hired by his pompous brother-in-law, Lester (Alda), a successful television producer to make a documentary celebrating Lester, whom Cliff grows to actively despise. While filming, he falls in love with Halley Reed (Farrow), Lester's associate producer.

At the time, Cliff is despondent over his failing marriage to his wife Wendy (Gleason), and he woos Halley, showing her footage from his ongoing documentary about Prof. Louis Levy, a renowned philosopher (although fictional in real life). He tells Halley he's shooting Lester's documentary for the money so he can finish the documentary on Levy.

Cliff's plain hatred of Lester (and his resentment of Lester's courting of Halley and success) are evident in a screening of the documentary film. It juxtaposes footage of Lester with shots of Benito Mussolini addressing a throng of supporters from a balcony; it also depicts Lester yelling at his employees and clumsily making a pass at an attractive young actress.

Lester is at once Cliff's polar opposite, since Lester is considered, by Cliff, to be a dimwit who mispronounces "foliage" ("foilage") and "nuclear" ("nuculer") — but also his equal. Lester quotes Emily Dickinson in one key scene, impressing Halley and upstaging Cliff.

Halley leaves for London, where Lester is offering her a producing job; when she returns several months later, Cliff learns that she and Lester are engaged. Hearing that Lester sent Halley a bouquet of white roses every week they were in London, Cliff is crestfallen as he realizes he is incapable of that kind of affectionate display. His last romantic gesture to Halley had been a love letter which, he admits, he had plagiarized almost entirely from James Joyce.

Adding to Cliff's burdens, he learns that Prof. Levy, whom he had been profiling on the strength of his celebration of life, had committed suicide, leaving a curt note, "I've gone out the window."

In the final scene, Judah and Cliff meet by happenstance at the wedding of the daughter of Ben, Cliff's brother-in-law and Judah's patient. Judah has worked through his guilt and is enjoying life once more; the murder had been blamed on a drifter with a record. He draws Cliff into a supposedly hypothetical discussion that draws upon his moral quandary. Judah says that with time, any crisis will pass; but Cliff morosely claims instead that one is forever fated to bear one's burdens for "crimes and misdemeanors."

The film ends with a narration by the late Prof. Levy about the interplay between morality and happiness.


Actor Role
Martin Landau Judah Rosenthal
Woody Allen Cliff Stern
Mia Farrow Halley Reed
Anjelica Huston Dolores Paley
Alan Alda Lester
Jerry Orbach Jack Rosenthal
Joanna Gleason Wendy Stern
Claire Bloom Miriam Rosenthal
Sam Waterston Ben
Caroline Aaron Barbara
Stephanie Roth Sharon Rosenthal


  • The outline of Judah's moral dilemma — whether a person can continue on his everyday living with knowledge of having committed a murder — evokes [1] the pivotal idea of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (and provides a resolution opposite to one in the novel). The theme would be revisited by Allen in his movies Match Point and Cassandra's Dream.
  • The scene where Judah revisits his childhood home, and sees his family at the dinner table is a twist on the scene in Wild Strawberries, directed by Allen’s idol, Ingmar Bergman, where Isak Borg revisits his childhood home and sees his family at the dinner table.


  • After viewing the first cut of the film, Woody Allen decided to throw out the first act, call back actors for reshoots, and focus on what turned out to be the central story.[2]


Allen makes use of classical and jazz music in many of the film's scenes. The soundtrack includes Franz Schubert's String Quartet #15 in G, which is used in the scenes leading up to Dolores' death, and Judah discovering her body.

Box office

The North American box office tally for Crimes and Misdemeanors was $18,254,702.


  1. ^ Mary P. Nichols, Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love, and Life in the Films of Woody Allen (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000) ISBN 978-0-8476-8990-3, pp 149-164 (Part 10 The Ophthalmologist and the Filmmaker)
  2. ^ "2046". 

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film written and directed by Woody Allen.


Judah Rosenthal

  • In reality, we rationalize, we deny, or we couldn't go on living.
  • God is a luxury I can't afford.
  • One sin leads to a deeper sin.
  • What were God's eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed. And I wonder if it was just a coincidence that I made my specialty ophthalmology.
  • Right, I won't!

Clifford Stern

  • When he tells you he wants to exchange ideas, what he really wants is to exchange fluids.
  • Where I grew up in Brooklyn, everybody was too unhappy to commit suicide.
  • What's the guy so upset about? You'd think nobody was ever compared to Mussolini before.
  • The last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty.
  • A strange man defecated on my sister.
  • Hi, it's Clifford. Wasn't Lester just so..ridiculous. ..What? Well what's he doing there? That could be dangerous. Do you want me to come over?
  • I remember the exact date, because it was Hitler's birthday.

Professor Louis Levy

  • We're all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, Human happiness does not seem to be included in the design of creation. it is only we, with our capacity to love that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even try to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.
  • I've gone out the window.


  • If it bends it's funny. If it breaks, it's not funny.
  • Idea for a farce. A poor...loser does a documentary of a great man and in the process learns some deep values.
  • I'll be honest. You're not my first choice.
  • Comedy is tragedy plus time.


  • I'm not after your god-damned money! I want to speak to Miriam!!

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