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Crime and Punishment

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Crime and Punishment (1935)

directed by Josef von Sternberg
featuring Edward Arnold, Peter Lorre, Marian Marsh, Tala Birell, Elizabeth Risdon

About this title: The story goes that Peter Lorre wanted to star in a film version of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, but was certain that Columbia Pictures chieftain Harry Cohn would turn the project down flat. So Lorre hired a secretary to type up a synopsis of the story in words of one syllable then submitted this simplified resume to Cohn. Enthusiastic over the project, Cohn gave Lorre the go-ahead -- but first he asked "Tell me -- has this book got a publisher?" Apocryphal story or no, the fact is that Lorre did star in Columbia's Crime and Punishment and in the bargain was directed by the ultra-stylish Josef Von Sternberg. As the arrogant sociopath Raskolnikov, who is convinced that he can get away with the murder of a nasty pawnbroker because he is "above" such intangibles as a conscience, Lorre is excellent, especially when his bravado is slowly eroded by the gentle but determined Inspector Porfiri (Edward Arnold). Like the aforementioned typed-up synopsis, the film oversimplifies the Dostoyevsky original, concentrating only on the crime, the pangs of guilt, the confession and the arrest: the punishment and its aftermath, so essential to the novel's overall impact, are dispensed with entirely. To make the film even more accessible to a mass audience, the story is subtly updated, though any distinctly "contemporary" touches such as automobiles, telephones and current slang are studiously avoided. The supporting cast is wildly inconsistent: Mrs. Patrick Campbell is fine in her brief scenes as the vitriolic pawnbroker, but Marian Marsh is all wrong as the streetwalker heroine Sonya. The principal strength of this Crime and Punishment is the film-long game of cat-and-mouse between the reckless Raskolnikov and the quietly methodical Porfiri. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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