Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
September 18
Crimes and Misdemeanors October 13, 1989
Crimes and Misdemeanors opens

When Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors opened in the fall of 1989, it was not exactly the film he’d originally intended to make. Allen would often reshuffle a movie in the editing room to find the story, thus requiring him to go back for reshoots. But with Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen went much further than usual. Allen had joked that the impulse for this drama of moral ambiguity sprang from “being too nice” to the characters in his 1986 Hannah and Her Sisters. In his review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby picked up on the connection between the two films when he wrote that “Crimes and Misdemeanors… recalls Hannah in that it has the richness and breadth of a novel, told with the concision of a densely packed short story. Like Hannah, it's about families, though about brothers rather than sisters.” Indeed, at one time the film had the title Brothers, as the double-layered tale (one involving a murder, the other the meaning of life) was plotted around two pairs of brothers. In the first story, Dr. Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a dentist, who gets his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) to help find a contact killer to murder an ex-mistress (Anjelica Huston) who has threatened to go public with their affair.. The other story revolves around Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), a documentary filmmaker in need of work, who is employed by his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), a TV producer whose work Stern abhors. (Lester is reportedly based on Larry Gelbart, with whom both Allen and Alda had worked.) In Allen’s fashion, the rambling plots and subplots once in the editing room had to be reworked, and the cast and crew were called back for 10 days of reshoots. Sean Young, who’d already been replaced in Batman that year, found her role completely cut out. Alda, on the other hand, found his part expanded. In the end, the tinkering worked. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, and became Allen’s highest grossing film (after Hannah) of the 1980s. For Allen, however, such success is never easy. He later claimed, “When I put out a film that enjoys any acceptance that isn't the most mild or grudging, I immediately become suspicious of it. A certain amount of positive response makes me feel comfortable and proud. Then beyond that, I start to feel convinced that a work of any real finesse and subtlety and depth couldn't be as popular as it is."


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