Cinema Slueth – Crime and Punishment U.S.A.

For all posts regarding the TV series Columbo or for the TV Shows / Movies in which various cast from Columbo acted in, go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation:  A decent adaptation of the masterpiece, but George Hamilton failed to deliver. Definitely was an ambitious film that failed in many ways for the director, but gave a step up for his future success.

Crime and Punishment U.S.A is a 1959 American feature film directed by Denis Sanders, produced by Terry Sanders and released by Allied Artists. The film stars Wayne Heffley, George Hamilton, Frank Silvera, Mary Murphy and Marian Seldes in the lead.

The film was a modern take on the 1866 novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This was set in contemporary Los Angeles rather than in 19th century Russia. There are many differences between the film and the novel but the basic premise and essence still remains the same.

Lieutenant Porter (portrayed by Frank Silvera) is tasked to investigate the murder of a pawnbroker. In the process he meets several suspects including a student named Robert Cole (portrayed by George Hamilton).  Its now Porter’s responsibility to untangle all the leads and suspects and find the real culprit.

This was the debut film for actor George Hamilton who plays the role of Robert Cole in the film. Director Denis Sanders cast him in the film because he resembled a lot like Anthony Perkins (from the 1960 American psychological horror thriller Psycho). Hamilton gets an “introduction” credits.

I watched this because George Hamilton was one of the characters in two of the episodes of my favorite detective series Columbo that aired from 1968 thru 2003. Surprisingly the movie is very much similar to that series which had released a decade after this film was released.

Frank Silvera portrays the role of Lieutenant Porter, seemingly bumbling detective who actually appears a fool in front of the pompous villain to ultimately catch him. The very character Peter Falk portrays in Columbo. They are so similar because both of these are based on a cop from the Crime and Punishment novel, which this film is based on too. I remember Silvera mostly in villainous roles in noir films. Nice to see him in a semi-comic role here.

Marian Seldes portrays the role of Debbie Cole, sister to Hamilton’s Robert in the film. But I remember her from the 1997 American family comedy film Home Alone 3 where she played the role of Mrs. Hess, a grumpy neighbor of Pruitt family.

I didn’t realize it was a black & white movie until I watched. Definitely gives it a noir look. Apart from the murder, the movie also deals with socially oppressing issues briefly – like a home owner who tries to assault Robert’s sister Debbie and doesn’t think it’s a crime; prostitution that Sally does on the side for ends to meet.

Robert sees so much darkness around him, disappointments in his family and himself, that he sees life as half glass empty. He forgets to see the beautiful lotus that grows in a swamp, only the marshy and dirty swamp. Always trying to make music using his hands tapping on anything he can find perhaps to shut out the chaos in his head with something rhythmic.

An ambitious direction by Denis Sanders but for one fault = George Hamilton. He could not give emotions as much as were needed. He sometimes came across crazy; and may be that’s how he needed to look. But he looked more like someone from a loony bin rather than a crazy smart.

A decent adaptation of the masterpiece, but George Hamilton failed to deliver. Definitely was an ambitious film that failed in many ways for the director, but gave a step up for his future success.

Spoiler Alerts:

Movie Trivia:

  1. The film was completed early 1958, but it wasn’t released unto late 1959.
  2. The opening aerial shots are of Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, CA, a popular amusement park in the 1960s that has since closed down.
  3. George Hamilton was part of two episodes in Columbo – the 1975 A Deadly State of Mind and 1991 Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health. In both cases he tried to outsmart Columbo just like in the movie, but in the end gets busted by the bumbling cop.
  4. This is the debut film of Magda Harout. She has a few lines and play the role of a neighbor to Sally.

Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

  1. The name of the author of the book Crime and Punishment is mis-spelt in the opening credits.

2. Several instances the subtitles are either shortened or do not match the actual dialogue that was delivered.

3. Robert places stuff from inside a large bag on to the sofa. The placement of these items are different between scenes.

4. When Rafe comes to meet Robert at the Merry Go Round, in between scenes his jacket is closed differently.

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