Swedish actress Ulla Jacobsson is dubbed in French by Martine Sarcey but, inexplicably, during the scene where Nicole Brunel goes to see Antoine Monestier in his apartment, and asks him to give her the key ("Donnez-moi la clef") one can clearly hear Ulla Jacobsson's real heavily-accented voice. See more »
Besides updating the 19th-century story to the then-modern day and transporting it from Saint Petersburg to France and reordering some of the narrative, this film is a fairly straightforward adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel "Crime and Punishment," and despite its noir style and sensibilities, it's a lackluster one, too. I've reviewed 24 movies inspired by the book since reading it, and this one ranks somewhere in the middle.
I like that the Raskolnikov type here, renamed "René," works with his friend to earn money by translating murder mysteries, which are the literary origins of film noir, after all. Combining two of his sister's suitors into one character helps make the adaptation more concise, too. I'm less fond that the male characters dominate most of the picture--even sidelining the Sonya type, "Lily," for much of it. Delaying the murder scene and other reorganizing of the plot also seems to confuse the rationale for the crime. René confesses to Lily that he no longer even knows why--poverty, his sister surrendering herself to a vile older man for his money, his aspirations to be an extraordinary man like Napoleon; at this point, the spectator, too, should be forgiven for being confused as to his reasons.
Minor changes, such as switching out the axe for a knife as the murder weapon or the drunkard falling from a staircase to his death instead of being run over by a horse, don't bother me. That it doesn't offer any compelling cinematic transmutation for the novel's ability to enter characters' minds--reading their thoughts and dreams--is disappointing, though. Other versions have done better in this regard. And, yes, as far as straightforward, studio adaptations, the 1935 French version is one of the better acted, paced and photographed. This one, too, has some decent studio sets, there's a nice contrast between the picture of Napoleon in René's room and that of the crucifixion of Christ in Lily's, and the picture is often appropriately dark and shadowy, but I was hoping for more bite from a noir. Some business involving automatons doesn't do the trick. For a film noir reworking of the book, I prefer "Fear" (1946), which is an admittedly bonkers B-picture, but it imitates other crime pictures better and manages to do so in ways that offer a novel twist on Dostoevsky's prose.
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