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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) is a black comedy written, directed by and co-starring Woody Allen, alongside Martin Landau, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Orbach, Alan Alda, Sam Waterston and Joanna Gleason. The film was met with critical acclaim and was nominated for the following Academy Awards:


The film is set in New York Citymarker and follows two main characters: Judah Rosenthal (Landau), a successful ophthalmologist, and Cliff Stern (Allen), a struggling documentary filmmaker. The two men are each confronted with moral crises.

Judah's crisis concerns his affair with a flight attendant Dolores Paley (Huston). After it becomes clear to her that Judah will not end his marriage, Dolores, scorned, attempts to inform his wife of their affair. Dolores' letter to his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom) is intercepted and destroyed by Judah, but she sustains the pressure on him with her threats of revelation. She is also aware of some questionable financial moves Judah has made.

Early in the film, he confides in a patient, Ben (Waterston), a rabbi who is rapidly losing his eyesight. Ben advises openness and honesty between Judah and his wife, but Judah does not wish to imperil his marriage.

Desperate, Judah turns to his brother, Jack (Orbach), who hires a hitman to kill Dolores. Later, before her corpse is discovered, Judah retrieves letters and other items from her apartment in order to cover his tracks. Stricken with guilt though, Judah turns to the religious teachings he had rejected, believing for the first time that a just God is watching him and passing judgement.

Cliff, meanwhile, has been hired by his pompous brother-in-law, Lester (Alda), a successful television producer to make a documentary celebrating Lester, whom Cliff grows to actively despise. While filming, he falls in love with Halley Reed (Farrow), Lester's associate producer.

At the time, Cliff is despondent over his failing marriage to his wife Wendy (Gleason), and he woos Halley, showing her footage from his ongoing documentary about Prof. Louis Levy, a renowned philosopher (although fictional in real life). He tells Halley he's shooting Lester's documentary for the money so he can finish the documentary on Levy.

Cliff's plain hatred of Lester (and his resentment of Lester's courting of Halley and success) are evident in a screening of the documentary film. It juxtaposes footage of Lester with shots of Benito Mussolini addressing a throng of supporters from a balcony; it also depicts Lester yelling at his employees and clumsily making a pass at an attractive young actress.

Lester is at once Cliff's polar opposite, since Lester is considered, by Cliff, to be a dimwit who mispronounces "foliage" ("foilage") and "nuclear" ("nuculer") — but also his equal. Lester quotes Emily Dickinson in one key scene, impressing Halley and upstaging Cliff.

Halley leaves for London, where Lester is offering her a producing job; when she returns several months later, Cliff learns that she and Lester are engaged. Hearing that Lester sent Halley a bouquet of white roses every week they were in London, Cliff is crestfallen as he realizes he is incapable of that kind of affectionate display. His last romantic gesture to Halley had been a love letter which, he admits, he had plagiarized almost entirely from James Joyce.

Adding to Cliff's burdens, he learns that Prof. Levy, whom he had been profiling on the strength of his celebration of life, had committed suicide, leaving a curt note, "I'm going out the window."

In the final scene, Judah and Cliff meet by happenstance at the wedding of the daughter of Ben, Cliff's brother-in-law and Judah's patient. Judah has worked through his guilt and is enjoying life once more; the murder had been blamed on a drifter with a record. He draws Cliff into a supposedly hypothetical discussion that draws upon his moral quandary. Judah says that with time, any crisis will pass; but Cliff morosely claims instead that one is forever fated to bear one's burdens for "crimes and misdemeanors."

The film ends with a narration by the late Prof. Levy about the interplay between morality and happiness.


Actor/Actress Role
Martin Landau Judah Rosenthal
Mia Farrow Halley Reed
Woody Allen Cliff Stern
Alan Alda Lester
Anjelica Huston Dolores Paley
Joanna Gleason Wendy Stern
Claire Bloom Miriam Rosenthal
Jerry Orbach Jack Rosenthal
Sam Waterson Ben
Caroline Aaron Barbara
Stephanie Roth Sharon Rosenthal


  • The outline of Judah's moral dilemma — whether a person can continue on his everyday living with knowledge of having committed a murder — evokes the pivotal idea of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (and provides a resolution opposite to one in the novel).
  • The scene where Judah revisits his childhood home, and sees his family at the dinner table is a twist on the scene in Wild Strawberries, directed by Allen’s idol, Ingmar Bergman, where Isak Borg revisits his childhood home and sees his family at the dinner table.


Allen makes use of classical and jazz music in many of the film's scenes. The soundtrack includes Franz Schubert's String Quartet #15 in G, which is used in the scenes leading up to Dolores' death, and Judah discovering her body.

Box office

The North American box office tally for Crimes and Misdemeanors was $18,254,702.


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