Affairs and Infidelity in the Movies – “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989)

I wrote this as part of my last blog about how to get out of an affair, but I realized not only was I running a bit long, but it was taking me a bit off course.

I also realized how affairs are portrayed in the movie and there have been many.  But THIS one movie jumped out at me in my memory, although the affair is just one of two parallel stories in what I consider to be Woody Allen’s finest movie –  “Crimes and Misdemeanors

1317918951747_Crimes_and_Misdemeanors_Overlay_1280_640_1280x640_20428954Martin Landau’s character, a middle aged and successful optometrist,  Judah Rosenthal, is faced with a dilemma that I can relate to.  At the beginning of the film, he is attempting to break off his affair with his 2-year mistress, Dolores Paley,  who is a stewardess, younger, and played brilliantly by Anjelica Huston.

He is rightfully fearful of the consequences of his decision to terminate his affair.  Ms. Paley seems quite high-strung, and sure enough, his worst fears are realized.  She writes a letter to his wife, which he intercepts and burns.  She calls their house and hangs up. She threatens to speak to his wife and to blab about his financial indiscretions to his partners, colleagues and friends.  She calls him at home and demands he come and meet her at a gas station up the road or else she’ll come to his door.  Anything to try and keep him in the game.  He tries to reason with her.  He even tries to pay her off, but to no avail. She is resolute in her determination to blab the affair to his wife and his financial indiscretions to others.  Judah is in a total panic.  He asks his mob-connected brother if he should just sit by and watch his “life go up in smoke.”

thIn response, his brother suggests that he can have people “take care of it.”  While Judah struggles with the decision, he asks out loud whether what Ms. Paley is doing to him is “justice” and whether he deserves it.   He struggles with his beliefs about right and wrong.  In the end, he decides that he won’t let this “neurotic woman” destroy his life.  He agrees to have her killed by a hit man arranged by his brother.   The remainder of the movie for this characters shows him dealing with the morality of what he did, the memories, the panic, and eventually the calm acceptance of his actions.

Judah engineered the murder of his mistress, yet he’s not portrayed by Director Woody Allen as a monster, surprisingly.  He’s portrayed like most of us in real life — humans full of contradictions.  Selfish.  Caught up in a situation he did not anticipate, and facing the very unexpected consequences of his poor decisions.    And how it almost completely unhinges him and tests his beliefs about God, thoroughly ingrained in him as a child.

15f542c3cf3c159f9c463144731211ad  Huston’s character is certainly seen as a bit of an obsessive psycho, yet, you can’t help sympathizing with her.   She’s fallen in love with a married man who has changed course, realized his error and terminated the affair.   She is not young nor particularly striking.  In fact, except for a past memory she has of them on the beach together (see photo of above), she is definitely dressed and acts to look anything but your average woman.  She has built her world around Landau, and he cruelly snatches the rug out from under her and goes back to his fancy home on 10 acres and his  rich friends.   She’s left in her tiny NYC apartment with nothing but memories and loss.

c7mAnd in her desperation, she becomes Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” without the Bunny or knife, but every bit as unpredictable and threatening to Landau’s life as he knows it.    She too is struggling with her decisions and the consequences of it.  She is more real than Glenn Close’ character in this way –even though her reaction to termination is more threatening, she doesn’t come across as a pathetic, psychopath as does Close in “Fatal Attraction.”  Her reaction, while a bit extreme, seems more in line with what a lot of ex-OW probably feel.

And the two parallel stories, while different, have a theme that is summed up by a Philosophy Professor who is a secondary, but important figure, in the movie, who is introduced as being part of a documentary that filmmaker Cliff (Woody Allen) is making. This professor sort of sums up a primary motif that runs through both stories:

We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions. Moral choices.  Some are on a grand scale.  Most of these choices are on lesser points.  But!  We define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are in fact the sum total of our choices.  Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included, in the design of creation.  It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.

Personally, I think the parallel stories and the symbolism are amazing.  I always thought this was Woody Allen’s best movie.  The portrayal of a MM caught up in a self-indulgent affair that almost blows up in his face certainly has the air of realism to it, except for a hit man taking out the mistress and that he gets away with it. And in fact not only does Landau prosper after his evil deed, but, by the end,  he seems content, very much in love with his wife and unbothered by his actions.

That’s not a course many people would or could take, and today, it would be much harder to cover your tracks with someone — phone records, email records, etc , would all have pointed the police to better connect Ms. Paley to Mr. Rosenthal.   Back then, all he needed to do was snatch of framed picture of the two of them from her apartment and her address book.  Her phone calls to his office and home were easily dismissed as her being a “concerned” patient with eye problems.

But that aside, although the movie is dark, and speaks to larger moral issues  than merely affairs and murders.  Is there a God? and if so, is he watching?  “God” in this movie is symbolized by Judah’s “saintly” brother who is a Rabbi and is going blind (a poignant parallel to Judah being an optometrist, and in a flashback, his father telling the young Judah, “God sees all.  The righteous and the wicked. And the wicked will suffer. Forever”).    As symbolized by the rabbi, God does not see what is going on to either Judah’s character, or in the parallel story of “Cliff” (played by Woody Allen).  It certainly is worth seeing in terms of the ability of understanding the mindset of some men in an affair.

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