Arlecchino Cinema > 09:00


Josef von Sternberg
Piano accompaniment by

Donald Sosin


Thursday 30/06/2022


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Josef von Sternberg made, often grudgingly, fine adaptations of hefty novels (Dreiser’s An American Tragedy among them) without ever being properly praised for the number of details these austere films retained from their literary sources. This impressive, occasionally moving film is a prime example – even if its main auteur is not Sternberg but Peter Lorre.
Like many of his fellow expats, Lorre was under a Hollywood contract for some time without actually working. Desperate for some action, he took the initiative of writing a treatment based on Dostoevsky’s novel and offered it to Columbia. Grappling with financial debts and still sending money to family back in Europe, Lorre’s situation was partly Raskolnikovian. In his interpretation, the arrogant, poverty-stricken and fragile former law student (emphasised by Lorre’s slight build) is a Nietzschean figure whose act of killing is a form of revenge on a callous world.
Sternberg’s precise direction shows a great degree of flexibility towards Lorre’s aims: no stuffy sets here, just naked walls and many staircases, as the film invariably deals with the idea of descent and ascent, both socially and spiritually. The film announces Lorre as “celebrated European star” yet gives him second billing (after Edward Arnold as Inspector Porfiry). His Raskolnikov, resembling a Depression hobo, is condemned from the very first shot, in which he is shown standing grimly in line with equally cheerless men. Here, Lorre’s murderous hands are the only element; the hands that had a criminal life of their own in Mad Love; the same hands that clutched and cursed, and were raised in front of Lorre’s eyes in his final scene in M, revealing a disfiguring torment.
Sternberg uses intense closeups of a profusely sweating Lorre (already hooked on drugs in real life) to show his further drift into mental instability. But unlike with other adaptations the director doesn’t care much about the moral dilemmas central to Dostoevsky’s work. Sternberg is a man of surfaces, the outer appearance of the world, and never delves into Raskolnikov’s delirious vision. As a result, the film confused and angered reviewers upon its release. Today, the same restraint has become the film’s main strength.

 Ehsan Khoshbakht


Leggi l’approfondimento su Cinefilia Ritrovata

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1866) di Fëdor M. Dostoevskij. Scen.: S.K. Lauren, Joseph Anthony. F.: Lucien Ballard. M.: Richard Cahoon. Scgf.: Stephen Goosson. Int.: Peter Lorre (Roderick Raskolnikov), Edward Arnold (ispettore Porfiry), Marian Marsh (Sonya), Tala Birell (Antonia ‘Toni’ Raskolnikov), Elisabeth Risdon (la signora Raskolnikov), Robert Allen (Dmitri), Douglass Dumbrille (Grilov), Gene Lockhart (Lushin). Prod.: B.P. Schulberg per Columbia Pictures Corp. - 35mm. D.: 88’. Bn.