Crimes and Misdemeanors

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Crimes and Misdemeanors Movie Poster Image
Dark Woody Allen comedy-drama about adultery, murder.
  • PG-13
  • 1989
  • 104 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The universe is amoral, and many among us who have done terrible things walk around without guilt, rationalizing bad deeds. People need to find joy in the simple things -- family, work, and hope that future generations might understand more about the human condition. People define themselves by the choices they've made in life. Comedy is tragedy plus time.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A successful and respected doctor pays to have his mistress killed when she threatens to expose the affair and upend his life. At the same time, he espouses his feelings of guilt and also his conclusion that if he can get away with his evil deed, the world must be a godless cesspool. A mistress becomes vindictive as she threatens to expose an affair. A successful television writer-producer is insufferably full of himself. A married man woos a single woman.


A woman is murdered by a hired killer. The act is not seen, but her body is later shown (clothed and with some blood). A reference to a man defecating on a woman.



A man complains his marriage has been platonic for a year: "The last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty." A married man carries on an affair with a younger woman. A reference to sexual bondage.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink socially.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crimes and Misdemeanors is a 1989 Woody Allen comedy that addresses adultery, murder for hire, betrayal, morality, and the question of whether the universe is guided by a God and differences between good and evil. At the same time, it sends up self-importance in the entertainment industry and glorifies the Golden Age of black-and-white Hollywood film. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink, and there are references to consensual sexual bondage. Expect to hear the word "bulls--t." A woman is murdered by a hired killer; the act is not seen, but her body is later shown (clothed and with some blood). There's a reference to a man defecating on a woman.

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What's the story?

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS presents a successful and respected physician named Judah (Martin Landau) who pays to have his mistress killed when she threatens to expose the affair and overturn his life. Moral dilemma is the movie's theme. When Judah asks his shady brother how to solve the problem, he surely knows that there will be a shady solution. Yet he acts shocked to hear his brother propose murder for hire. He claims his conscience won't allow it, yet he pays the money. Raised as an observant Jew who has always rejected the idea of a God, he now fears punishment as he relives his father's lectures on good and evil. At the same time, a married, unemployed documentary filmmaker (Woody Allen) woos a woman who isn't interested in him. Although he prefers more serious subjects, he agrees to make a film about Lester (Alan Alda), an egotistical, successful television producer for the money, which doesn't end well. Moral questions in this subplot echo those raised by the murder story.

Is it any good?

The writing, editing, and seamless storytelling make this one of Woody Allen's best films. Few others would think to showcase the human tendency to compare different degrees of immorality through comedy. Two intersecting stories loosely weave together. The one about adultery and murder is riveting. In comparison, the one featuring Allen as an unrealistic documentary maker who longs for an unattainable woman seems a bit slapstick in its comic effort to lighten the darkness. Yet the comedy may, in fact, be a stroke of directorial genius, making the murder story more palatable than it would be on its own. Note that the era of the cinematic antihero probably ended with the worldwide economic downturn, thus no longer affording the privileged, whiny stock characters Allen usually plays their former likability.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the movie views good and evil. Does it suggest that good people can do bad things but still be good? How would you define "good"?

  • Do you think it is fear of punishment that guides people's moral decision-making or an internal sense of what is right and what is wrong? What does the movie seem to say about this?

  • Do you think this 1989 movie is still relevant? Why, or why not?

  • How does this movie compare with other Woody Allen films?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas and comedies

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