Review: Crime and Passion

[Originally published in Movietone News 52, October 1976]

A well-researched case history would probably be more relevant than a conventional review in determining Crime and Passion’s just place in the annals of film. Films like this one come to us in such a clearly piecemeal condition that it’s difficult to envision them as anything but foredoomed second-feature material. A contingency-be-damned formalist might insist on trying to find a lucid and traceable progression from the opening overheads of a bright-colored sportscar careening dangerously through city traffic to the final, emotionally apt shot of a quasi-Mabusian figure literally frozen in contemplation of a distant fairy-tale castle where two lovers half-playfully, half-dolefully wait for his Death to come claim them. If such an analysis be possible, I’ll read it with gratitude. Meanwhile, Crime and Passion seems typical of off-the-wall projects that somehow ricochet out of control the moment they hit their locations on the Continent (in this case, Austria), so that, after a while, no one can quite remember when they come on set any given day just what, ultimately, they wanted their movie to do or be about, or just how the particular scene at hand was supposed to slant them toward that objective.

Omar Sharif plays this decidedly peculiar speculator and investment counselor whose fey eccentricity may have preceded, may have resulted from his precarious standing in the realm of global-scale wheeling and dealing. In the first few moments he seems at the end of his tether—a condition he’s curiously well-equipped to live with, even thrive on, since the worse his fortunes look, the hornier it makes him feel, and his chief lieutenant (Karen Black) is so plugged in to his particular lifestyle that she shares his enthusiasm for a lunging boff across a conference table. Somehow it’s crucial to their expectations for the future that she marry a mysterious investor (Bernhard Wicki), play the wife for six months, and hold herself available for Sharif’s arrival on scene, after which their life will be paradise on earth, or some such place. But more than six months goes by, Sharif gets caught shitfaced with his signature on a two-and-a-half-million-dollar transfer of funds to a secret Swiss bank account, and the mysterious magnate and/or the organization he’s tied in with want the money back or—perhaps even preferably—equivalent compensation in the form of Sharif’s flayed flesh.

I had lost track of motives and likely plot trajectories even before this, and decided that this was one of those times—and good times they often are—to try locating the pumping heart of authorial interest somewhere other than dead center of the ostensible narrative. Approached in this way, Crime and Passion is an agreeably peculiar picture, a kind of zonked-out St. George and the Dragon in which St. George is a certifiably incompetent zany and the maiden turns out to be half Dragon Lady herself. Once Sharif is stripped of his social function (which is incredible any way you look at it while it lasts) and turned into a klutz on the run, it’s easier to be comfortable about him, and to concentrate instead on what sort of game Black, Wicki, and various enjoyably improbable hitmen are playing with him. Ivan Passer directed the movie, which almost surely began life on somebody’s storyboard as a salably naughty and elegant comedy-thriller and evolved more interestingly, but fitfully, toward the kind of basic-bleak metaphysical whimsy one might expect from an expatriate Czech filmmaker. Even considered in light of the latter (accidentally evolved?) intention, the present film remains little more than a series of half-articulated gestures. But these gestures are richer signs of singular life than might be observed anywhere in Passer’s previous American project, Law and Disorder (I’ve never seen Born to Win), and are sufficient to renew hope that the director of the exquisite Intimate Lighting will eventually bounce back with other worthy films. Meanwhile, Crime and Passion reminds us once more that some “unfinished” movies are more intriguing than many of their conventionally realized counterparts, and will very likely linger in the mind longer than a lot of nominal top features it’s billed with.

RTJ

CRIME AND PASSION
(formerly AN ACE UP MY SLEEVE)
Direction: Ivan Passer. Screenplay: Jesse Lasky Jr. and Pat Silver (and William Richert, uncredited), after a novel by James Hadley Chase. Cinematography: Denis C. Lewiston. Editing: John Jympson, Bernard Gribble.
The players: Omar Sharif, Karen Black, Joseph Bottoms, Bernhard Wicki.

© 1976 Richard T. Jameson

A pdf of the original issue can be found here