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Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-law student, kills an old pawnbroker and her sister, perhaps for money, perhaps to prove a theory about being above the law. He comes to police attention ... See full summary »
Living in squalor, a former student and loner (Raskolnikov) murders an old pawnbroker woman in order to confirm his hypothesis that certain individuals can pretermit morality in the pursuit of something greater.
Roderick Raskolnikov, a brilliant criminology student and writer, becomes embittered by poverty and his inability to support his family. When he sees a desperate prostitute, Sonya, degraded by a vicious pawnbroker, Raskolnikov, a proponent of the idea that some people are imbued with such intelligence that the law cannot be applied to them as to other people, decides to rid the world of the pawnbroker and thus save his family and Sonya as well from the fate poverty forces on them. When Porphiry, the police detective investigating the murder, encounters Raskolnikov, he finds a man nearly crippled by the guilt and paranoia his deed has burdened him with. But Raskolnikov clings with as much coldness and calculation as he can muster to his guiding idea, that some crimes ought not to be punished. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of the credits reads "Story by Dostoievsky". There is an asterisk next to this credit, and at the bottom it says, "Feodor Dostoievsky, Russia's foremost author, wrote 'Crime and Punishment' in 1866'". See more »
Fyodor Dostoeyevski is, without a doubt, one of the greatest novelists of his native Russia, of 19th Century Europe, and of world literature. That said, he is also a pain in the ass to read. If you are into his views of self-sacrifice and mysticism, and of redemption through intense, sometimes meaningless suffering, you can't find anyone else like him. If you also like anti-Western slavophilia, with more than a dollop of anti-Semitism, he's your guy. These aspects appear in his Russian contemporary Tolstoi too, but Count Leo had a more universal view of forgiveness and brotherhood than Fyodor ever had. Therefore Tolstoi makes his occasional snide comments, but they are quickly dropped - not intensively developed. With these serious reservations said, Dostoeyevski remains monumental. Most people recall him for two novels: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. Neither of the two novels were ever successfully made into U.S. films, despite a great director in this 1935 version of the former novel, and a grade "A" cast and production in the 1958 version of the latter that starred Yul Brynner and Maria Schell. From what I have seen a Masterpiece Theatre version of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT in the 1970s was far closer to the novel than Von Sternberg's 1935 version. But Von Sternberg, working with Columbia Pictures, did not have as good a budget (and certainly could not make a four hour film).
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT has been called the first psychological detective novel, and the best. It is not a who-done-it in the spirit of Dashiell Hamnett's THE THIN MAN. It is more like a Columbo episode (and Columbo's character is obviously modeled on the laid back, wise Detective Inspector Porphiry - who patiently allows Raskolnikov to give himself away and up). Dostoeyevski lets us see the killing of the old pawn broker and her sister, and understand the twisted "philosophical altruism" that Raskolnikov uses to commit his crime. It is a murder for social purposes - get rid of the leech like money lender/pawn broker, grab her money, and use it to aid those truly unfortunate in society. Had the murder been committed quickly with only the pawn broker killed, the absurd logic might have worked. Instead, because the sister of the victim sees the killing, Raskolnikov has to kill her too for self protection. From that time forward his philosophical base begins to crash. Also he discovers that the material answer of money is not enough to help the poor or those he comes to love. As such CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is (no real slap at Conan Doyle) light-years away in effectiveness from THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. And watching the Russian police procedural in the novel, as Porphiry helps whittle away at Raskolnikov's iron core of beliefs is quite good too.
Peter Lorre gives an affecting performance as the killer, one more role in a chain beginning with "M" that would continue for much of his admirable career. It must have been well received publicly. The Ritz Brothers spoofed his performance in one of their films. Arnold is fine as Porphiry, who has seen all the murder types (and can quickly find their weak spot). Here, his best moment is when another lesser suspect confesses unexpectedly just as Lorre seemed about to confess. It leaves Porphiry perplexed and troubled, as the confession has been heard by witnesses (including a smart aleck Lorre), and Porphiry realizes an innocent man has possibly put his life in danger by such an act. There are some good supporting touches too, especially seeing Mrs. Patrick Campbell in her last performance on screen as the pawnbroker, a dried up, malevolent figure that one does not waste too much pity on (again, if she had been the only victim Raskolnikov's philosophical point would have been correct). Cuts due to budget and time considerations ruined several parts - Douglas Dumbrille as a married man who wants Lorre's sister (Lorre can't stand him) and who helps bring Lorre to book (for personal reasons) had a larger part in the novel, including suicide. That is not in the film.
With all it's budget restraints though, it is a good introduction to the great novel and I recommend it.
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