“I have studied these things! They won’t find me out — I won’t make mistakes!”
An arrogant university graduate (Peter Lorre) brutally murders a pawnbroker (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) in order to help his sister (Tala Birell) and mother (Elisabeth Risdon) escape a life of poverty — but soon a suspicious police inspector (Edward Arnold) begins a subtle campaign to convince Lorre to confess.
Shortly upon his arrival in Hollywood (after escaping the rise of Nazi power in Europe), Peter Lorre began a successful campaign to convince Columbia Pictures to allow him to star in an adaptation of what is arguably Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s best-known novel, Crime and Punishment (1866). Josef von Sternberg was brought on board to direct, but apparently considered it merely a contractual obligation and held it in low esteem, given its decidedly loose connection with the original text. The resulting film is a radically truncated yet thematically coherent variation on the novel, with atmospheric cinematography and direction, and an earnest if occasionally overly theatrical performance by young Lorre. A romantic subplot involving a prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold (Marian Marsh) who’s helped by Lorre, then wants to help him in return, comes across as a bit manufactured, but the interplay between Lorre and Arnold remains tense and authentic throughout. This one’s worth a look, even if it’s not quite must-see viewing.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Atmospheric cinematography (by Lucien Ballard) and direction (by von Sterberg)
No, though it’s recommended as an accessible, atmospheric introduction to Dostoyevky’s classic novel. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.