Crimes of Passion (1984) – By Roger Carpenter


Director Ken Russell has always been both celebrated and sharply criticized for his films. His films have won Academy Awards as well as festival awards all across the globe. Many of his films have also been cut, slashed, censored, and outright banned in many countries as well. Crimes of Passion is no different.

Lensed in 1984 and starring A-list actress Kathleen Turner (with a recent high-profile star turn in 1981’s sexually-charged Body Heat) as well as Anthony Perkins, who was enjoying a resurgence of popularity thanks to the recent hit Psycho II (1983), this film, too, suffered from censorship problems. Finally released in an R-rated theatrical version and later released in both censored theatrical and uncensored versions on video, Crimes of Passion is a candy-colored, neon-bright, sexually frank thriller with some notable flaws.

Turner stars as Joanna Crane, on the surface a workaholic in the fashion industry. She’s withdrawn and cold at work, relatively new, and her boss suspects her of stealing and selling patterns on the side. He hires Bobby (John Laughlin), a sexually frustrated suburban husband trapped in an unfulfilling marriage, to track Joanna and see if he can resolve her mysterious ways. What he discovers is Joanna’s alter life as a glamorous streetwalker named China Blue, ready to satisfy any fantasy for fifty bucks an hour. The two make an emotional connection which allows Bobby to finally admit his marriage is failing even as Joanna/China exhibits fear of this new relationship.

But there is a third variable at work: Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins), a crazed street preacher who likes to get wound up at the peep shows before standing on the sidewalk attempting to save souls. He has become obsessed with saving China Blue’s soul and fantasizes saving many streetwalkers’ souls with the use of his razor blade vibrator dubbed Superman.

Crimes of Passion is an adult-oriented sexual thriller clearly marked as an eighties film by its musical score, hairstyles, and color schemes. Intended as a slick, Hollywood vehicle for Turner and Perkins as well as an answer to Russell’s critically-panned freshman U.S. effort, Altered States, the film was mired in controversy for its frank language and graphic depictions of sexual situations.

But if one knows Ken Russell, then one knows what to expect. He doesn’t shy away from sexual situations or nudity in his films, and it’s almost guaranteed there will be an undercurrent of Catholic imagery or thematic elements as well. This film is no different. It features several relatively graphic (for 1984) sexual set pieces, including bondage/anal rape with a baton on a policeman, a rape fantasy, a sexy shadow play sequence of sexual positions, and a typically Russell-like sequence with China Blue dressed as a nun and marching to a rousing verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers”, as well as a surprising amount of nudity by an A-list starlet, and also contains a conversation about sex between a couple that must have been outrageously shocking for the times. In fact, screenwriter Barry Sandler admits as much during the audio commentary as he describes the uncomfortable reactions to the scene by preview audiences.

The film has many noir-like sequences, particularly during the Hollywood Boulevard/Paradise Hotel sequences, with bright, garish reds and blue neon colors flashing between the shadows. These bright colors were popular throughout the eighties and is a surefire way to date the film, along with the women’s big hair or short bobs and fashion statements such as women wearing ties. But lest one think the film is all style over substance, typical of Russell’s films, there is a great deal of subtext going on. The film explores relationships between men and women as well as their hang-ups, and attacks the use of sex as power head-on.

While the score is solid, there are some silly additions as well as at least one horrific sequence used as an MTV-like video screened on a television. And while the images may impart some subtext on marriage and materialism, the song as well as the singer is absolutely atrocious.

While I enjoyed Perkins’ crazed street preacher persona, his character and plot sequences felt contrived and added almost as an afterthought. Perkins pops up intermittently but never really feels like a primary storyline until the final act of the film. I suppose Russell and Sandler needed these sequences to create the “thriller” aspect of the film, but even had these sequences been left out I think the film could have stood by itself as a steamy drama.

Regardless, Crimes of Passion is worth catching to see Perkins’ dazzling performance as well as Turner’s gorgeous and sexy China Blue.

Arrow Video has chosen to release the film as a DVD/Blu-Ray combo package which includes the original unrated cut of the film as well as a Director’s Cut created by Russell for a later presentation that includes five additional minutes of footage not contained in the unrated cut, making this 112-minute version the longest possible presentation of the film. The 2K restoration is gorgeous and really allows for the eighties colors to pop. Special features include seven deleted or extended scenes with optional commentary by screenwriter Barry Sandler, a new interview with Sandler, and a brand new interview with composer Rick Wakeman. The deleted scenes are interesting as several of them contain additional contextual information that presents characters in a different light. Though cut for pacing and time constraints, it is interesting to note how these sequences could change how audiences might feel about certain characters or plot points. The interviews are both excellent, with the Wakeman interview being particularly entertaining as he discusses his relationship with Russell as well as specific experiences while filming.

Additional features include a horrific music video which is included within the film but was also used to promote the film via MTV as well as the theatrical trailer for the film. Finally, there is an interesting audio commentary by Russell and Sandler that is worth listening to.

Crimes of Passion is certainly a product of its time and less shocking to today’s audiences than yesteryear’s moviegoers, but nonetheless is definitely worth viewing. You can purchase this package at Amazon or directly from Arrow at: