"Fascinating...those insects...the so-called human race. They don't look like porch climbers, murderers and wife beaters from here. You wouldn't think those harmless-looking little doodlebugs were full of greed and lust and all the seven deadly sins. I often wonder why people go on living...intelligent people, I mean. - Lee Gentry's (Claude Rains) first lines, spoken while gazing out of his office window
A character study of Nietzschean proportions of a lawyer whose only moral is intelligence and whose only real desire is to be loved. Lee Gentry made it his specialty to defend the worst criminals and to win those cases. Even though he is the protagonist the film dares to show him as the (in)human scum that lawyers are and while there isn't exactly ANYTHING likable about him he is admirable in some ways and above all he is a tragic figure as a case study of conflicting concepts in their purest form. It's the dramatic battle of a supreme analytical mind unclouded by morality against a very human (and very male) desire. On that basis I could very much relate to him as a more extreme reflection of myself. The tragedy is that Lee Gentry is self-aware about this inner conflict and he tries to find a practical way to make them work in union but we already know that he will get his comeuppance because the opening sets it up that way, "the Furies - the three sisters of Evil" are sure to get him sooner or later, the question is how. In this sense it's a bit of a precursor of film noir, hardly surprising coming from Ben Hecht.
Independently produced, directed and written by Ben Hecht together with his regular writing partner Charles MacArthur both of which are best known as writers of plays and Hollywood screenplays. IMDb also gives directing credit to cinematographer Lee Garmes ('Shanghai Express' and other von Sternbergs, Scarface,...) which probably hints at him being an important collaborator since Hecht and MacArthur were new to this whole directing thing. Furthermore he also did a very fine job photographing the picture, especially for an early talky it has some exquisite camera-work. It also has some bold editing rhythms. Overall the filmmaking by those first-time directors is stunningly self-assured and sophisticated and probably less surprising is that the film in the best sense doesn't exactly feel like it goes by the book. And perhaps inevitably for an early sound film there is a certain rawness to it that only made the whole endeavor more exciting for me.
The amazing surreal opening montage by Slavko Vorkapich which alone is for me up there with the most impressive experimental films of its time is just a great warm-up to one outstanding movie. It's been a while since I saw a film that got a physical reaction out of me and I sure am glad that I didn't listen to the naysayers who claimed that it is little more than a great montage sandwiching a fairly standard film, 'Crime Without Passion' reigniting my passion for cinema.
If you like films about amoral protagonists who think they stand above everyone else (Crime and Punishment, American Psycho,...) or if you feverishly rooted for Edward G. Robinson to get away with his crime in 'The Woman in the Window' (you'll see why I made that comparison) or if you enjoyed the raw energy of 'Baby Face' but also understood why the seemingly ruthless career climber would go for marriage in the end then 'Crime Without Passion' comes highly recommended.
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