Crime and Punishment (1935)

Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment Poster
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
B.P. Schulberg Productions for Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing


“Do you understand, sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?” Marmeladov’s question came suddenly into his mind “for every man must have somewhere to turn…” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

I loved this film, a loose adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel.  Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) graduates with highest honors from university and makes his mother and sister proud.  He goes on to write scholarly articles on criminology.  He has a sort of Nietzschean theory that ordinary standards cannot be applied to extraordinary men.  His articles don’t pay much, however, and he is living in desperate poverty.  He goes to a grasping, insulting old pawnbroker to pawn his father’s watch to pay the rent and while there meets a sweet, devout prostitute named Sonya (Marian Marsh).

When he discovers that his sister has lost her position and feels forced to marry a horrible beaurocrat to support herself and their mother, he snaps and murders the pawnbroker for her money.  The rest of the story follows the psychological aftermath of the crime on Raskolnikov,  the relentless investigation of the murder by Inspector Porfiry, and the redemptive love of Sonya.

Crime and Punishment 1

According to the commentary track on Mad Love, Peter Lorre agreed to star in that film in exchange for a guarantee that he could make this one.  I am glad it worked out because he is simply fantastic in it.  It is great to see him exercise a full range of emotion in a complex leading role.  My favorite parts were immediately after the crime when the character decided that he no longer feared anything.  I laughed out loud several times at the way Lorre delivered the many zingers.  He is also pathetic, tender, and hysterical as the moment requires.  Marian Marsh is very good and Edward Arnold is almost satanic as the inspector.  The film looks quite beautiful despite its low budget thanks to cinematography by Lucien Ballard.

The complete film is currently available at a couple of different obvious online video sources.

To view clips on go here:

2 thoughts on “Crime and Punishment (1935)

  1. As you know, I think that Peter Lorre’s acting in his early films is excellent and this is no exception. There is something about that strange looking little man which can either be pathetic or menacing. He could play it either way, or he could be Joel Cairo in Maltese Falcon with a totally different persona.
    I don’t think that this film was popular with the public if I remember correctly…..maybe it was too cerebral or didn’t star some handsome hunk and one of the glamor girls. Have you ever noticed that you don’t hear much about this film?

  2. I wonder if audiences of the day saw Dostoevsky as too high-brow. It seems like something that might have gone over in Europe. Of course, with the political situation, it wasn’t going to play in Germany or the USSR. On the other hand, I read that von Sternberg hated it himself because of the liberties that were taken with the plot, so maybe Dostoevsky lovers wouldn’t have liked it either. I’ve read the novel years ago, though, and I really liked it a lot.

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