Roderick Raskolnikov, a brilliant criminology student and writer, becomes embittered by poverty and his inability to support his family. When he sees a desperate prostitute, Sonya, degraded by a vicious pawnbroker, Raskolnikov, a proponent of the idea that some people are imbued with such intelligence that the law cannot be applied to them as to other people, decides to rid the world of the pawnbroker and thus save his family and Sonya as well from the fate poverty forces on them. When Porphiry, the police detective investigating the murder, encounters Raskolnikov, he finds a man nearly crippled by the guilt and paranoia his deed has burdened him with. But Raskolnikov clings with as much coldness and calculation as he can muster to his guiding idea, that some crimes ought not to be punished.
Born in Vienna, director Joseph von Sternberg spent much of his youth in New York; his entrée into show business was as a film repairer for the World Film Company of Fort Lee, NJ. After returning to Austria to complete his education, he joined the U.S. Signal Corps as a photographer in 1917, then took assistant director jobs after the end of World War I. It was either actor Elliot Dexter or an anonymous producer who suggested that Sternberg would go farther in the industry if he affixed a “von” to his last name, à la Erich von Stroheim. Von Sternberg went whole hog in creating a “genius” veneer, adopting a strutting, imperious attitude, dressing in regulation beret and puttees, and even growing an obnoxious little mustache so he would be certain to be hated and feared. This posturing tended to obscure his genuine cinematic gifts, especially in the field of photographic lighting and composition (at one point, he was the only director permitted to carry an American Society of Cinematographers… read more
Lorre's star was in the ascendant and von Sternberg's was on the wane when they teamed up for this unusual but effective Dostoyevsky adaptation. Not having read the source novel I can't say whether or not this is a faithful version, though I doubt it. However, judged solely as a film I was captivated by the cat-and-mouse game brilliantly played between Lorre as Raskolnikov and Arnold as Porfiry. A fascinating curio..