CRIME AND PUNISHMENT U.S.A. (Denis Sanders, 1959) ***
To begin with, I almost did not acquire this when I chanced upon it, since the film does not have much of a reputation; even so, it has recently been released on DVD-R as part of Warners' "Archive Collection", running 96 minutes (like the version I watched) rather than 78 as listed on the IMDb! In any case, the result is undeniably gripping (given the source material) and decidedly accomplished (in spite of the obvious low budget) – with gleaming cinematography by Floyd Crosby and a jazzy score by Herschel Burke Gilbert.
Best of all, the performances (notably, as always, the arrogant protagonist and his wily nemesis) are reasonably impressive. George Hamilton (being nominated for a BAFTA award in his film debut) kind of channels Anthony Perkins here, and it is unfortunate that he would soon forsake such thoughtful roles for sophisticated (and, in the long run, superficial) ones. Frank Silvera plays his pivotal cop role as something of a buffoon; Mary Murphy's character, then, does not shy away from discussing her sordid 'profession'; while John Harding appears as the seducer of the hero's sister. Incidentally, Hamilton's scenes with the latter two are only slightly less compelling than his confrontations with Silvera (established in previous cinematic renditions as the novel's centerpiece).
As the title suggests, Dostoyevsky's morality tale has been updated to modern-day America: curiously, it eschews the pivotal figure of the pawnbroker entirely (though we are still told why the murder was committed) – indeed, the narrative here starts off with the arrest of the painter! Still, the victim's essentially disagreeable characteristics are transferred onto the afore-mentioned Harding – which seemed unnecessary at first, but this does generate an intriguing complicity between the two murderers paid off, most effectively, in ironical fashion when the student ultimately confesses because he believes the other fellow killed himself out of remorse when it was over rejection!
In the end, the film is pretentious (boasting a powerful script by Walter Newman), with a tendency towards sleaze; that said, this mature approach is quite redolent of the transitional period in which it was made – being entrenched somewhere between studio-system Hollywood and the 'movie brats' generation. For the record, this was also director Sanders' first effort, of whose later work I have watched (and own) WAR HUNT (1962), ELVIS: THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (1970/2000) and INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973); besides, I have just acquired THE American WEST OF JOHN FORD (1971; TV) and am interested in ONE MAN'S WAY and SHOCK TREATMENT (both 1964).
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