The Crank: ‘Crime and Punishment’ Program Notes (4/11/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.

Following the box office disappointment of The Scarlett Empress (1934) and the political controversy of The Devil is a Woman (1935), director Josef von Sternberg parted ways not only with Paramount but also with his frequent collaborator and muse, Marlene Dietrich. According to von Sternberg, he was “liquidated by Lubitsch,” an ironic musing since the latter did little to interfere as production manager on the film except change the title.

Luckily, Ben Schulberg, who had just signed a production deal with Harry Cohn at Columbia, enlisted von Sternberg after his ousting at Paramount, offering him a two-picture deal and a fresh start. Soon von Sternberg’s fortunes became tied with another European émigré signed with the studio, the Hungarian-born actor Peter Lorre. Known primarily for his theater work in Germany with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Lorre had left his mark as the murderer in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and had just starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935) in London. Eager to establish himself in Hollywood, Lorre presented Cohn with the idea of adapting Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a vehicle for him to star in as its conflicted and murderous criminology student, Roderick Raskolnikov. As Hollywood legend has it, Lorre had his secretary type a monosyllabic synopsis to prove to Cohn that translating Dostoyevsky’s novel from page to screen was possible. Allegedly, Cohn, who was enraptured with the idea, only had one question for Lorre: “Tell me—has this book got a publisher?” Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Crime and Punishment’ Program Notes (4/11/13 Screening)” »