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Like The Brothers Karamazov, also by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment is a literary masterpiece, with a story that entertains and completely engrosses, a striking degree of psychological tension, interesting themes and as ever fantastic characterisation (if not as multi-dimensional as those in The Brothers Karamazov). But, as with The Brothers Karamazov, because of the mammoth length, the amount of depth, Dostoevsky's very intelligently literate but quite wordy style and the themes, adapting a story of this length and depth was never going to be easy and this 1935 French version does a noble job doing so.
Of the two versions seen of Crime and Punishment, both from 1935 (the more well-known version being the Josef von Sternberg film with Peter Lorre) neither are perfect but both are very solid films and worth watching. If there was a personal preference between the two, they are about equal but there is a slight preference towards this. In terms of how it's adapted, the tone, substance and psychological tension of the story are kept intact but because of cramming a long book into less than two hours it is understandably and inevitably condensed with omissions and things that are still here but not given the amount of development they could have had. As in the von Sternberg adaptation Sonya I agree is treated in a rather underdeveloped way here, which gives little room for Madeleine Ozeray to give the charm and emotional vulnerability needed, and while the romance wisely doesn't overshadow the main story of the crime and how it affects Raskolnikov it is written in such a bland, low-key way it was like it was almost forgotten about.
However, this film is incredibly well-made, and far superior to the production values in the von Sternberg film. The sets are laden with a real sense of doom, the lighting is eerily shadowy and the photography is both creepy and luminous. Arthur Honnegar's haunting music score fits the mood like a glove, the script is clever and literate with the tension between Raskolnikov and Porphyre nail-biting and the story never drags its course over the nearly two hour length, the double crime scene is a masterstroke of gripping intensity and atmosphere, Raskolnikov's anguish is wholly convincing and never seemed overplayed and the chemistry between Raskolnikov and Porphyre is tension-sizzling. Pierre Chenal directs beautifully, allowing the atmosphere and tension to never slip, and the performances of the two leads along with the art direction is one of the film's main pleasures. Pierre Blanchar's interpretation of Raskolnikov is not quite as creepy as Peter Lorre's but it's more subtle, more nuanced and even more movingly anguished, without overplaying it (even just his feverish appearance is enough to convince one of the extent of the guilt). Even better is the brilliant Harry Baur (who I last saw as the definitive Valjean in the best film version of Les Miserables), the more anguished Raskolnikov and more suspicious Porphyre gets the more almost frightening the film gets.
In conclusion, a good, solid film that's sadly underseen. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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