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Dostoevsky on Film


Mackie45
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I was so pleased to find more than one feature length film of Crime and Punishment available for streaming from YouTube. On NetFlix? Zilch! Why, they even have the Kulidzhanov film from Soviet Russia of 1969-70 which comes in for such high praises from the critics. Also, the BBC series from 2002, and the von Sternberg (1935) with Peter Lorre in the role of the beloved ax-murderer, Raskolnikov.

 

What fun! Yes, Peter Lorre actually does manage to be, at times, funny in the role--if it's possible to imagine that? Been re-reading the novel just of late, and that to my endless delight to rediscover (since college days) what a master of the craft Dostoevsky truly was--or no, still is. I mean, I've read lots and lots of novels since then, and have many more now under my belt to compare by, and my judgment is this: Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy, and Ray Chandler, and Agatha Christie--eat your hearts out. When it comes to noir thriller fiction and the black art of the murder mystery, this author who they say was the father of the modern novel, remains the passed master of the art today. Yes, I say that he knows no peer.

 

Challenge me on that. Please do! And I'll try, most valiantly, to make my case. ;-)

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If I recall correctly, Mackie there is some kind of pun in the original Russian title of "Crime and Punishment".

 

And yes, having read many of Dostoevsky's books during one of my most morbid periods, I will say he definitely had a handle on the dark side. Unlike Ellroy though, he did not continually dwell on the same subject matter over and over, which is probably why he is considered so much of a better writer and one cannot even mention both in the same breath.

 

The movie with William Shatner as a Brother Karamazov, kind of amused me but the Lorre film is arresting, and I'm not making a pun!

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Dostoevsky is my favorite writer, but I hesitate to watch films based on his novels, or any other Russian writer.

 

The Lorre film wasn't all that bad, but doesn't go to the heart of the novel.

 

I saw the Russian version of his best novel, the Brothers Karamazov, but felt that it also didn't go to the heart of the novel. I've never seen the American version, but hear it was awful.

 

I just think he's a writer that's difficult to capture on film. The closest successes were loose adaptions of Dostoevsky, like those done by Bresson and Kurosawa.

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"Challenges of this type are unnecessary . . ."

 

Aw, nuts. I was anxiously hoping to receive such a challenge, rendering me the perfect excuse to post here a somewhat lengthy essay to support my view--howsoever jaundiced or biased, that Dostoevsky is still way ahead of the game, when it comes to any writer of the crime thriller genre then or since, though one does hesitate to call *Crime and Punishment* a "murder mystery", or like, a 'hard-boiled' noir detective story, for precisely some of the reasons you have stated . . .

 

"I think Dostoyesky's main focus was presenting his own religious/philosophical ideas and his views on the individual, society, and contemporary politics using the form of fiction, and he found that the subject of crime could fit that purpose."

 

Right. F.D. was writing within the midst of one of the most lively, and incredibly deep, dark intellectual ferments ever known to the Western mind. The introduction, by Princeton scholar, Joseph Frank, to my copy of the Constance Garnett translation could not be more illuminating when it comes to the philosophical motives that went into the writing of this novel.

 

Dostoevsky hated the philosophical Nihilism that was gaining to such currency in his time, as he shared his views in all the same journals where those nihilist writings were appearing, to inspire then and later, the minds of Marx, Engels and Lenin. And he paid his dues for his views, didn't he? Served four years in Siberia for **** off the wrong people.

 

And he had them good and **** too, especially the man that Ayn Rand cribbed much of her philosophical foundation from, namely his harshest critic, N. G. Chernyshevsky, with his 'enlightened, rational egoism'. And what an odd contradiction--wouldn't it seem, that Rand should be taking some of her most central doctrines from a bunch of socialists? A socialist whose most central doctrine is one of individualism? Well yes, but it was a self-aggrandizement that applied only to a ruling socialist elite: not a far leap from that to a dictatorship of the proletariat, eh?

 

But of course this "rational egoism" would be taken by Ayn Rand without so much as a breath of acknowledgment or 'how do ye do' to her intellectual mentors, for how could she outwardly admit that those nihilists she outwardly despised but secretly admired were also socialists?

 

What a weird hodgepodge of contradiction, eh? No wonder it was all driving the poor, starving student, Raskolnikov quite raving mad. Oh, and by the way, speaking of puns and such--how fascinating to discover that the name "Raskolnikov" is derived from the word in Russian *raskolnik* which means "heretic".

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Sorry about that, maybe a brave soul will step forward. I suppose a reading of Crime and Punishment as just a mystery/noir work is possible, but it would leave out a lot of the underpinnings of the book. I like Raymond Chandler's novels too.He also has other things going on than just crime stories, though probably not as deeply as Dostoyevky does,

 

I haven't read it in a while, but a lot of the political and social issues of the time come together in The Devils. Nihilists, Westernizers, various political groups, maybe some Old Belivers too, can't remember, but the gang's all there.

 

If I recall correctly, Dostoyevsky was scheduled to be executed and that was suddenly reversed.That close call might have been one of the things that changed his outlook on the world. Certainly a life changing event.

 

I have some of Constance Garnett's translations. Back in the day it seems she was the go to translator for Dostoyesky. In the last few decades there have been other translations that may be more faithful to the text, but that's a matter that's way above my pay grade. I didn't know about the word play with Raskolnikov. Interesting.

 

Maybe Marx was somewhat influenced by the Nihilists in his younger days, but he is really the opposite of a nihilist, constructing that overarching system of communism. He really believed in something, a very definite something. I'm not going to get into Randy Ayndy. I've never read any of her books, so I'm staying out of that subject.

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"If I recall correctly, Dostoyevsky was scheduled to be executed and that was suddenly reversed.That close call might have been one of the things that changed his outlook on the world. Certainly a life changing event."

 

You bet. He was lined up, facing a firing squad, before the order came to spare them. Jean Paul Sarte faced a similar "mock execution"--and how could it not alter a person's whole goddam world-view? Something like that?

 

Gawd.

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  • 2 months later...

Talking recently with an old friend, a prof of history and Russian, 87 years old and and in the pink, who is big on Tolstoy and who related to me how important Dostoyevsky was to him as he was growing up. Surprisingly, he was not aware of the 1958 Brothers K. I told him I thought it was a pretty good film?considering it was Hollywood and considering the difficulty of treating a long and idea rich novel such as that. I may have over hyped it, thinking his familiarity and perhaps his standard will make him scoff at it. The question of whether or not a film can do justice to such a novel is good one, it may not even be possible. How much can two hours of moving pictures do justice to the Brother K anyway? Pretty well perhaps depending on the standard. I thought Yul B was great as Dimitri and Lee J Cobb quite good as the old man. The main events were pretty much covered as I remember (it?s been awhile). I remember Dimitri?s apology to the old captain quite moving. It?s been too long to go on about it, I notice to my disappointment that Netflix doesn?t have it (not even as a Save), so the film by be difficult to come by these days. I would sure like to see it again.

 

The BBC?s Crime and Punishment is pretty good, I thought. John Hurt is Raskilnakov and an actor name Timothy West is outstanding as Profiry, the police inspector. Profiry is a great creation, a virtuoso at busting chops, verbally dancing around poor Rasky with various innuendo, not quite saying what he knows (until an perfectly timed and opportune moment). West is one of a plethora of excellent English actors who spend their entire careers (or nearly) in British TV dramas, away from American eyes, and therefore may not be known over here. West is astonishingly good as Profiry. I understand Hurt later played Profiry himself, now that would be interesting.

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  • 4 weeks later...

*The Great Sinner*, with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, is a version of *The Gambler*. Not great, but not bad at all. I actually prefer it to Sternberg's *Crime and Punishment*, which doesn't really work for me.

 

The BBC did a great version of *The Gambler*, with Edith Evans unforgettable as the gambling grandmother.

 

Two superb BBC mini-series (late 60s/early 70s vintage) are unavailable because of poor preservation practices by the BBC. I saw *The Possessed*, which was brilliant, and heard great things about *The Idiot*, which wasn't shown in America. I believe that one episode of *The Idiot* has been lost and that *The Possessed* only exists in an inferior version of the original print.

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