I watched a film tonight from 1935 and Columbia Pictures called “Crime and Punishment,” directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Peter Lorre, Edward Arnold and Marian Marsh. It veers from the story by Fyoder Dostoevsky in that it does not retain much of the suspense of the novel; Raskolnikov, as played by Lorre, flips back and forth between being a total mess to a cunning murderer. But we can’t see the wheels turning as we could in the novel Moreover, the novel’s sense of total degradation and sense of creeping inevitability seems lost in this translation.
Of course, successful movies pick a central theme rather than a collection of them. The film chose to not delve into the hallucinogenic nature of Raskolnikov’s villainy, choosing instead to concentrate on the war of wills between Raskolnikov and Edward Arnold as Inspector Porfiry. We witness Raskolnikov’s undoing as he incriminates himself, and it’s always fun to watch Lorre when he’s up against a clever opponent.
A rougher treatment of this story could make it film noir material, but it maintains little of the darkness prevalent in later films with similar stories such as “Shadow of a Doubt,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1942, or “Double Indemnity,” directed by Billy Wilder in 1944. von Sternberg really didn’t want to make the film, and he disliked the script and the actors. Hitchcock would have made a much more suspenseful movie.