Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Crime and Passion (1976)

          Ivan Passer, a Czech writer/director of considerable skill who emerged in tandem with Milos Forman, has worked steadily in Hollywood but never joined Forman on the A-list. Projects such as Crime and Passion explain way. A discombobulated mess for which Passer deserves much of the blame—in addition to directing, he was one of seven (!) writers—this would-be caper flick lurches tonally from carefree to creepy and back again, often within the space of a single scene. The script combines countless incompatible elements, and the awful leading performances are delivered by two actors who simply don’t exist in the same universe—Omar Sharif acts with his usual swarthy intensity, while Karen Black pitches her portrayal to the level of operatic campiness for which she is (in)famous. Poor Joseph Bottoms forms the third side of a romantic triangle, but his laconic energy is smothered by the work of the other stars.
          The nonsensical story goes something like this. Andre Ferren (Sharif) is a European investment counselor who plays games with his clients’ money. His associate/mistress, Susan Winters (Black), agrees to manipulate a rich aristocrat into marriage, with the intention of divorcing him for a huge financial settlement that Susan will share with Andre. Things get complicated when Susan meets a handsome American (Bottoms) and when Susan becomes convinced that the aristocrat’s castle is haunted. There’s also a subplot about the aristocrat electronically spying on Susan, so the aristocrat may or may not be hip to the fact that she and Andre are running a con. Yet the story isn’t the only bizarre element of Crime and Passion so bizarre—the film is decorated with deeply strange flourishes.
          Andre gets aroused whenever he experiences professional setbacks, so Susan’s pillow talk consists of stock losses and so forth; during scenes featuring this behavior, Sharif seems frightening rather than eccentric, as if he’s about to rape Black. The unpleasant vibe is exacerbated by the film’s heavy-handed score, comprising moody electric-piano music and sudden, horror-movie-style stings. Toward the end of the movie, Bottoms sits in the castle dining room, receiving (offscreen) oral sex from Black until he hallucinates—or does he?—that a knight in full battle armor has entered the room. This bit is topped by the finale, during which Black and Sharif hump outside the castle while Black shoots a dead body out of a cannon into the valley below the castle. How any of this actually got filmed is a mystery. For instance, did anyone think the vignette of Sharif taking a bath and singing “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” was a good idea?

Crime and Passion: LAME

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