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This 1935 film of "Crime and Punishment" was one of Peter
Lorre's greatest acting role, he had such great talent and he used every
facial expression in the book as the guilt ridden suspect along with his
famous soft boiled eyes! Edward Arnold took a back seat in this film,
however, Marian Marsh gave a good performance and she looked radiant
throughout the picture. These actors in 1935 made this film tops on my
of films. Peter Lorre like many actors were type cast and never were able
to reach the high level of their talents.
I must admit that I found this film to be intriguing and as a result, I liked it! One can clearly see that it's a B-film. But, who cares? It's never as cheap looking as those Monogram low-budgeters from that era and it was directed by one of the masters, Josef Von Sternberg. Peter Lorre gives a good account of himself as a man who tries to cover up a crime that he committed. He is dogged by a somewhat good-natured police inspector played by Edward Arnold and is helped onto the road of redemption by a kind, angelic prostitute played perfectly by Marian Marsh. Dostoyevsky's long novel has been adapted into a tight 88 minute feature film, which runs along smoothly and is never dull. "Crime and Punishment" is a film which is intelligently written, directed and acted.
Columbia Pictures updated Fydor Dostoyevsky's classic novel "Crime and Punishment" from its original era and set it during the bleak years of the Great Depression. The updating works due to an excellent director and a superb cast. Josef von Sternberg guided the production along with his usual flair, making "Crime and Punishment" an entertaining motion picture. In the film, Roderick Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) murders a haggish, old pawnbroker and soon discovers that he hasn't committed the perfect crime. Inspector Porfiry (Edward Arnold) is on to him and starts a cat and mouse game with Roderick that nearly drives Roderick insane. Also, a sympathetic prostitute, Sonya (Marian Marsh), falls in love with Roderick and begs him to give himself up and face the punishment that is coming to him. Although clearly a B-Film (notice that there are not many extras in the cast), "Crime and Punishment" is a good example of how an entertaining film can be made on a limited budget.
Josef von Sternberg directed this version of "Crime and Punishment,"
starring Peter Lorre, Edward Arnold, and Marian Marsh in 1935. It's an
updating of the great novel, with Lorre as a man tortured by his own
It's a fairly dreary-looking affair, quite dark, with impressive use of shadows. The most interesting aspect of the way it was filmed to me is how Lorre's small stature is emphasized, as if the staircase, for instance, was over-sized. The incomparably beautiful Marian Marsh is the prostitute who tries to help him, and she gives a very gentle and heartfelt performance. Edward Arnold is the bombastic head of the murder investigation of the pawnbroker (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) - he's plenty scary. I don't blame Lorre for being a complete wreck.
Lorre is excellent playing a character who vacillates between arrogance one minute and fear the next. Definitely in the top ten of unusual faces and voices in film history, his hooded eyes show the torture the character is suffering.
Definitely worth seeing for von Sternberg's direction, Lorre and Marsh.
I have spent my entire adult life reading and teaching the works of
Dostoevsky, and as such I often approach film adaptations with a great
deal of trepidation. Cinematic adaptations of ambitious Russian novels
inherently involve a tremendous amount of compromise and reduction. At
worst, they become embarrassing comic-book imitations of the original,
and, at best, they become representative distillations, provocative
If one wants to see the best attempt at the latter, one should see the 1970 Kulidzhanov film version, which hews as close as possible to the original spirit and themes of the novel.
This 1935 von Sternberg version does not fall neatly into either category. It certainly makes some wrenching changes to the original-- not just in terms of plot details (such changes are inevitable for the cinematic form), but even to the thematic spirit of the original (Roderick receiving such high honors at the outset; Roderick entering a such a strident Napoleonic phase _after_ the crime; the momentary 180-degree reversal in Sonia's final speech), but what does come through successfully is a kind of gestalt rumination on the original novel. If Dostoevsky's novel was an exquisitely perfect, ambitious symphony, this film is a jazz rhapsody on the theme of the book; it borrows and rearranges motifs and creates its own new song, a song nothing like the original in particulars, but a worthwhile song on its own merits.
The film certainly seems to make full use of the serendipitous similarity in appearance between Lorre and Napoleon in his most famous portraits (Lorre even hams it up by sliding his hand under his vest at one point, which is the stereotypical Napoleonic gesture). And the decision to set the story in no particular city, it seems to me, was a judicious one, as it eliminates much of the painful artificiality that inevitably comes when Anglophone films attempt to portray Russian society.
In short, I do think this is a worthwhile film if it is judged as a creation unto its own-- not the novel per se, but a kind of Hollywood, proto-noir inspired by the great book.
Crime and Punishment (1935)
*** (out of 4)
Dostoyevsky's classic novel turned into a classic film by the legendary von Sternberg. In the film Peter Lorre plays a brilliant but poverty stricken criminalologist who resorts to murder when his mom and sister are threatened with being homeless. The crime seems to go off without a hitch until his conscience begins to haunt him and his fear of a detective (Edward Arnold) starts to cause more panic. This is an extremely impressive version of the novel and also features a terrific performance by Lorre but the real beauty here is the vision by von Sternberg. His stamp is all over this film and it's easy to see early on with the beautiful lighting, which creates some wonderful atmosphere and real tension. The way the cinematography picks up each and every shadow just makes the tension in the story build and build and this is especially true right after the murder when Lorre panics and tries to get away without being seen. This entire segments contains some great suspense and the director gets most of the credit. I found Lorre's performance to be one of the greatest of his career because he's actually got quite a bit too do here. Not only must he play a genius but he also must show fear, panic and even a comic tone. When Lorre's character loses his fear it turns into some comic touches and he delivers on all the notes. Arnold turns in another strong performance and his laid back approach is perfect opposite Lorre's breakdown. The one weak spot in the film for me is the final act, which seems to be drawn out too long due to Lorre's relationship with a poor woman (Marian Marsh). Mrs. Patrick Campbell is downright wicked in her role of the murdered pawnbroker. With a little bit of editing this movie could have been a real masterpiece of the genre but as it stands, this is a perfectly entertaining "B" movie that has plenty going for it.
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.
For his first Hollywood movie, Peter Lorre billed as "the great international star" personally chose to play the lead in an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's masterpiece, although he is curiously second billed to the film's nominal star Edward Arnold (appearing in the film's latter half as his nemesis, the Chief of Police). The film has been justifiably criticized for being a greatly oversimplified and condensed version of Dostoyevsky's mammoth novel but, not having read the book myself, I was satisfied with (and found much to admire in) von Sternberg's typically pictorial direction which highlights Lucien Ballard's atmospheric chiaroscuro lighting. Peter Lorre is perfectly cast as the arrogant genius Roderick Raskolnikov whose tracts on criminology has made him a household word with the police authorities but, perhaps due to an excess of pride, apparently also reduced him to a bottom-of-the-barrel social status; a casualty of the film's ruthless editing of the original source is the fact that Raskolnikov's fall from grace (from a master pupil to a bum) is never properly explained. Meeting up with a lovely gamine (Marian Marsh) at a heartless pawnbroker's and fully confident in his own superiority 'above the law', he soon puts his theories into practice by doing away with the latter; picked up for questioning by the Police, Arnold (also excellent) soon requests his assistance on the murder investigation itself upon learning of Lorre's true identity and, before long, an innocent neighbor (FRANKENSTEIN 's Michael Mark) is brought before them as the prime suspect. The cast also includes Gene Lockhart (as Lorre's pompous brother-in-law-to-be) and Douglas Dumbrille (as a former employer of Lorre's sister who is now seemingly hounding his steps). Reportedly, von Sternberg did this merely as a contractual assignment and is said to talk disparagingly of it in his famous autobiography, "Fun In A Chinese Laundry"; whatever the case, it was a good start for him after the termination of his celebrated long-running collaboration with Marlene Dietrich. There have been several film adaptations of the Dostoyevsky novel over the years but the most intriguing one that I would like to catch up with is Robert Wiene's 1923 German Expressionist Silent version RASKOLNIKOV which, for better or worse, was recently released on DVD by Alpha under the novel's more recognizable title.
I read the book so long ago that I'd forgotten many details, which was
fine - I watched it as a rainy afternoon film presented by Ted Turner,
and it is indeed a Turner Classic Movie.
Slammed by many, it is in fact very well written, extremely well acted, and a revelation of Peter Lorre's range. He carries the film brilliantly. It's essentially a long dialog between Raskolnikov, a brilliant, impoverished writer on crime, and Inspector Porphyry, nicely interrupted by Raskolnikov's thoughts on crime, interludes with his family, and his love-life. Made on a low budget, it proves yet again that money isn't everything. Intense, excellent acting, direction, editing and camera work do the job, as with so many low budget European films. It's about people and ideas, not special effects and stardom.
What you get is a minor classic with no empty spaces and nothing extra. The narrative drive is cumulative and very human. Deprived of Dietrich, von Sternberg has no problem, and gets the best out of Edward Arnold and Marian Marsh (and everyone else) as well as Lorre. No weak spots, all class. It's also the perfect demonstration of how to find an excellent film in a great novel: by not trying to include everything, but going to the heart of the matter.
Classic Russian literature is a wealth of psychological intentions,
brimming with historical depravity and conversely elegance. Poverty and
degradation was rife during the 18th and 19th centuries. This depth of
psychological characterisation can most certainly be found in one of
Russia's greatest writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and particularly in (in
my opinion) his greatest work, Crime and Punishment which was published
in instalments in 1866. (This publication is also one of my favourite
books of all time).
The book (and of course this 1935 film) follows Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre), a lauded graduate of criminology, is witness to the depravity and selfishness of the culture around him. After seeing a young woman, Sonya (Marion Marsh), being ripped off by an old female pawnbroker (Mrs Patrick Campbell), he sees it as his duty to remedy the problem by murdering her. With his credentials as a master criminologist, Raskolikov believes he can commit the perfect crime. Unfortunately his actions do not go as he had planned, and the time spent after the murder he is overcome with paranoia.
It seems appropriate that this film was produced in the 1930's, during the Great Depression. The poverty and hypocrisy redolent in that decade were found in the Russia of the novel. Peter Lorre plays a fantastically paranoiac, and sweaty character, his facial contortions perfect instruments of doubt, scared awkwardness, and justified anguish. Raskolikov's path leads him to the chief of police, Porfiry (Edward Arnold), and his guilt begins to unravel.
This film was an incredibly low-budget affair, which hampers the director, Josef von Sternberg's, usual visual flares (in films such as The Blue Angel (1930) and Shanghai Express (1932)). This film was produced under Columbia Pictures, as Sternberg's previous employers, Paramount, had ended his contract with them. However, whilst it is technically flawed, and is largely unimaginative in the art department, it is still a beautiful film to watch. Certainly not the greatest adaptation of Dostoevsky, it does carry a great performance from Lorre, and packs in some of the psychological tension produced from the narrative.
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