Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Crime and Punishment

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Von Sternberg: Dietrich and Beyond)

After three weeks of all-Dietrich, all the time, the Brattle's von Sternberg series ends on a couple of the director's other films (though I saw The Scarlet Empress and The Devil Is A Woman last week, I didn't have much left to say about the collaboration). It also serves as an entry in the Peter Lorre centennial series.

Lorre is fun to watch; he isn't subtle, but he picks exactly the right kind of emoting for each moment. That's a valuable skill for this movie, where a large Russian novel is being crammed into a ninety-minute movie. Also a joy to watch is Edward Arnold as Inspector Porfiry, who is charged with investigating the murder committed by Lorre's Roderick Raskolnikov, a student of criminology. He doesn't initially suspect, but as guilt and paranoia start to work on Roderick...

Well, even if other audience members like myself haven't read the novel, it's not hard to trace the path of the narrative. But there's 30s-style banter, melodrama, and even some romance involving Mr. Lorre. Von Sternberg tells the story with great efficiency, not wasting a single shot, and sharp wit. I've got no doubt that huge chunks of the book were jettisoned, but what remains is a focused, entertaining movie. It's one of Lorre's first English-language roles, and a strong starring performance from one of the greatest character actors of all time.

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