Crimes of Passion

crimesofpassion-rev Crimes of Passion  (1984)    New World/Drama-Thriller    RT: 112 minutes    Unrated Version (strong sexual content, nudity, violent images, language, sexual references, drug use, depraved behavior)    Director: Ken Russell    Screenplay: Barry Sandler    Music: Rick Wakeman    Cinematography: Dick Bush    Release date: October 19, 1984 (US)    Cast: Kathleen Turner, Anthony Perkins, John Laughlin, Annie Potts, Bruce Davison, Yvonne McCord.    Box Office: $2.9 million (US)


 Crimes of Passion opened to much controversy in fall ’84. The studio was forced to cut 10 minutes or else be slapped with the dreaded X rating. Since respectable theaters, as a matter of policy, don’t show X-rated films, New World had no choice but to acquiesce to the demands of the MPAA. It’s the only way it could possibly turn a profit. Instead, it was the near-unanimous negative reviews that killed it. The real crime in Crimes of Passion is that it’s boring.

 Directed by Ken Russell (Women in Love), Crimes of Passion is an attempt at a serious exploration of sex and sexual behaviors. It’s constantly undermined by a subplot about a psycho stalking the main character, a kinky hooker named China Blue (Turner, Body Heat). She’s an interesting one. By day, she’s Joanna Crane, an uptight fashion designer with intimacy issues. How do we know this? She wears drab outfits (usually a shirt and tie). Somebody says that she hates anybody with a penis. Then there’s the matter of her other job. Every night, she dons a turquoise dress and platinum blonde wig and hits the streets to fulfill the sexual fantasies of perverts. It’s interesting the way Russell films her two lives. Her daytime activities are shot in a very matter-of-fact way. The nighttime street scene is depicted as a lurid world of seedy hotel rooms, peep shows and flashing neon lights. It’s film noir meets porno flick.

crimesofpassion Her boss suspects her of industrial espionage so he calls in a surveillance expect to spy on her. His name is Bobby Grady (Laughlin, Footloose) and he owns an electronics store. He’s married to his high school sweetheart Amy (Potts, Ghostbusters) and has two kids with her. Their marriage is in big trouble and he’s in denial. She’s frigid in bed and barely tolerates him in and out of the bedroom. Bobby is instantly attracted to China Blue and tries to start a relationship with Joanna. It won’t be easy. He’s a nice guy and she’s complicated (to say the least).

 Russell could have done something interesting with this but he opts to turn Crimes of Passion into a thriller by introducing the aforementioned psycho, a street preacher named Peter Shayne, played by none other than Anthony Perkins (Psycho). He spends his time watching peep shows, sniffing drugs and fantasizing about killing prostitutes with a sharpened stainless steel dildo he keeps in his bag with his Bible and other sex toys. He’s obsessed with saving China Blue’s soul. We know this because he says, “Save your soul, whore!” to which she replies, “Save your money, s--thead!”  Such wonderful dialogue in Crimes of Passion.

 To be fair, Crimes of Passion isn’t all bad. The cinematography by Dick Bush (snicker, snicker!) is very good. I like how the China Blue scenes are shot. The acting is also pretty good (mostly). I have to compliment Turner for taking on such a role. It takes a lot of nerve and talent to do what she does in Crimes of Passion. She plays a character with a dual identity and does so convincingly. Laughlin is also good as the square husband trying futilely to hold his marriage together long after its expiration date. Potts does well as the wife who clearly doesn’t love her husband anymore yet she’s afraid to end the marriage for fear of being alone. Perkins overacts shamelessly in a role not too unlike Norman Bates. He even peeps at China Blue through a hole in the wall. At one point, he sits at a piano and breaks into a enthusiastic rendition of “Get Happy”. That bit is completely out of left field. This character belongs in a different movie, perhaps a sequel to Angel. I mention that particular movie because it came out the same year from the same studio and also dealt with a psycho killer stalking a hooker with a double identity (“High school honor student by day, Hollywood hooker by night”).

 I will say that the uncut version of Crimes of Passion is an improvement over the one released to theaters. I went to see it on a Saturday afternoon and I was bored. It played only a week in that theater. What strikes me about Crimes of Passion all these years later is how it represents the arbitrary nature of the MPAA. They objected to the sexual scenes even though they weren’t for purposes of titillation. The movie is about sexual behavior and removing most of that behavior from the movie renders it pointless. It’s like these people have no respect for art or the artist’s vision. However, I can’t rightfully regard Crimes of Passion as art. It’s a sleazy, nasty, boring movie that proves only that Ken Russell is a dirty old man. It’s a dirty movie, nothing more. It’s the kind of movie that masquerades as a serious art film so audiences won’t feel guilty about seeing it. I’m surprised I didn’t see any men in raincoats at the showing I attended. I guess perverts only come out at night. 

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