Crimes of Passion Blu-ray Review: Kathleen Turner Gets Kinky

Not enough crime, too little passion, far too much Anthony Perkins with a giant vibrator.
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Crimes of Passion is a psychosexual drama from Ken Russell (Tommy, Altered States).  It works best when you think of it as a moral satire but mostly it's just a hot (but not that kind of hot) mess.  Kathleen Turner’s performance would be considered brave if it were not so over the top that it veers into the ridiculous.

She plays Joanna Crane, a respected fashion designer who lives a double life as prostitute China Blue, who fulfills various men’s kinkiest desires.  John Laughlin plays Bobby Grady, an investigator stuck in a sexless marriage, who is asked to spy on Joanna because her daytime boss thinks she’s selling secrets to a competitor.  He quickly discovers her secret life, uses her services, and falls in love. Anthony Perkins plays the deranged preacher Reverend Peter Shayne who alternately wants to save her, fuck her, or kill her.

They form something of a love/hate triangle.  All three of them have something to hide.  Joanna cannot not let her nightlife interfere with her day job, Bobby must hide his obsession with China from his wife, Reverend Shayne preaches salvation on the streets while fantasizing violence as he watches peep shows.  They spend most of the movie trying desperately to reveal their true selves to one another.

Annie Potts plays Amy, Bobby’s wife.  Both Bobby and the film consider her to be a cold, loveless shrew of a woman who thinks Bobby is immature and his jokes crude and childish.  Her greatest sin is that she never wants to have sex.  But the thing is, she’s kind of got a point.  Bobby is childish and his jokes are crude and unfunny.  In one scene, they have some friends over and he comes out wearing some balls at his feet and pretends to be a penis going through an entire "flaccid to erect to ejaculation" bit.  He’s never the least bit romantic yet constantly begs pathetically for sex. They have one rather poignant scene towards the end of the movie where she tearily explains why she has such difficulties with her sexuality and while he seems to care in that moment in the very next one he’s all over China Blue again.  Even when Amy makes a strong effort to be sexy, he ignores her.

How Joanna/China Blue falls for him is a bit of a mystery in itself.  He’s obsessively sweet to her, but it's hard to imagine a woman in her business not having had to deal with obsessive types before.  I suppose we’re meant to see how the fact that he’s uncovered her dual personalities means she can rip off her masks and be real with him.  Whatever problems there are with the film believably making these two fall for each other that’s the way it stirs out story-wise at least until Reverend Shayne comes calling with a giant, metallic and deadly vibrator.

There is plenty a film could say about America’s hypocritical sexual mores. Crimes of Passion seems to satirize the subject but it's so all over the place nothing meaningful ever relay surfaces.  Online commentators argue that director Ken Russell wasn’t actually trying to say anything at all but rather reveling in over-the-top surfaces.  Maybe that’s true and I’m trying to find some depth in something that is shallow by design.  Maybe so, but with a surface as ugly as this I’d prefer to skim the surface and move on to something more satisfying.

Crimes of Passion went through a pretty significant edit in order to maintain an “R” rating in the United States.  Arrow Video has brought to us this version plus an unrated “director's cut.”  There’s some additional sex in the unrated cut and a couple of scenes are switched around, but I can’t say the new version changes my mind about the film.

Extras also include an audio commentary from Ken Russell and writer Barry Sandler, a fun interview with Sandler, and another one with Rick Wakeman who composed the film’s score.  Additionally there are some deleted scenes and a music video.

The audio and video quality is mostly good.  The video has quite a bit of noticeable grain and noticeable variances in sharpness and quality.  Though the booklet notes the audio exists as a 4-track stereo recording, the Blu-ray actually only contains a mono track.  Presumably, the booklet simply gets it wrong.  But the mono track works rather well.  The dialogue is always clear, and the synth heavy score (which is apparently based on music by Dvorak) comes out rather robustly.

I’m not at all familiar with Ken Russell’s other work except that most of it is rather notorious for its edginess.  Certainly Crimes of Passion lives in that world and if you are a fan of his work or rather ridiculous genre filmmaking, I can give this a recommendation.  But if you are looking for something that digs a little deeper, that has something interesting to say about human sexuality and the various masks we wear, I’d look somewhere else.

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