by Melissa Mazarakes
In 1989, Woody Allen released Crimes and Misdemeanors, an existential comedy drama starring Hollywood legends Martin Landau, Mia Farrow, Angelica Huston, and others. Often regarded as Allen’s most serious film, humor is still present in the film. We follow two storylines throughout the film, First we have Clifford Stern, who is a small-time filmmaker, and also in an unhappy marriage with his wife and wishes to pursue a new relationship with his producer Halley Reed, whom he feels understands him on a deeper level. Secondly we have Judah Rosenthal, who is a successful and respected ophthalmologist, who is having an affair with another women, Dolores, Paley who is expecting Judah to leave his wife for her. Judah is a man seeking to fix his past mistakes, the guilt of being unfaithful haunts him, and during the film, he tries everything in his power to not succumb to the only option his brother gives him to get rid of her—permanently.
In “Connecting to the Conscience: Shakespeare and Woody Allen,” Susan Arpajian Jolley draws parallels between the film’s structure and themes to those of Macbeth. Comparing Judah to Shakespeare’s title character, Jolley writes “Judah, like Macbeth, does not make the decision to murder lightly. He wrestles with his conscience not through soliloquies, but through conversations both real and imagined. As the movie progresses, Judah, like Macbeth, is tormented by the figurative blood on his hands. He cannot sleep. He is jittery and agitated. His mobster brother Jack, in the manner of Lady Macbeth, tells Judah to shape up. Lady Macbeth tells her husband, “What’s done is done” (3.2.14). Jack tells Judah, “It’s over, so forget about it.” Lady Macbeth exhorts Macbeth to act like a man. Jack tells Judah, “Be a man! You’re in the clear.” Judah, like Macbeth, is not convinced. The parallels are obvious” (The English Journal, Jan., 2009)
Allen shows us the darker storyline with Judah and Clifford’s storyline serves as a lighthearted counterpart and it may not seem like these two storylines have parallels, but they very much do. It is even in the title of the film. The Crime represents Judah, who does eventually go through with the murder plot and has Dolores killed. The Misdemeanors represent Clifford, in whom he does not plan the murder of his wife, he attempts to start a relationship with Halley, despite being a married man. Judah and Clifford both commit the crimes of adultery, but Judah commits the even bigger crime—murder.
Where Allen’s humor is shown in most of the film is the stark contrast on how the same crime can have two drastic outcomes. Especially in the ending when the two characters finally have a chance encounter at party when they both sneak off to drink alone. Clifford having gotten away with murder is happier then ever with his wife and it shows that the crime not only did not effect his life, but neither his guilt. Clifford on the other hand is getting divorced from his distant wife and Halley not only declined his offer to be together, but also arrives at the party with another man, a successful man. Allen is known for his dry and neurotic humor, in which he shows by the consequences both the characters face by the climax. It could be debated that even though Judah has committed the deadly crime, his character went through development and shows us that he is trying to be a better man, therefore he should received the “happier ending”. Clifford on the other hand, progresses into adultery throughout the story and that he is on the start to same path Judah was on. Allen shows us that the universe has a funny way of rewarding people, who really shouldn’t have gotten away with their crimes.