Directed by: Ken Russell

Starring: Kathleen Turner, Anthony Perkins, John Laughlin, Annie Potts, Bruce Davison

Bobby Grady, a thirty year old electrical engineer, finds his marriage in crisis as his wife Amy is becoming ever more frigid and detached. He is asked by a friend to take a nightshift job at a fashion studio to discover who has been stealing their designs. The boss suspects one of his designers, Joanna Crane, of being the culprit. However, Bobby follows her and realises that not only is she innocent, but is leading a double life as a prostitute called China Blue. Bobby finds himself drawn to her, but he's not the only one - a deranged priest called Rev. Peter Shayne, who believes the pair of them are somehow linked...

crimes of passion1

Even in a resume that includes Tommy, The Devils, Women in Love and The Rainbow, Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion still manages to stand out. And, even today, in a world where any amount of explicit sex can be found on the internet, this film still manages to feel really dirty.

A lot of the film is set in the more seamy, sordid side of (whatever town this is meant to be) and seems to wallow in the grime of it all. One of the very first things we see is a peepshow: a young woman dancing naked, while men hiding behind screens watch through a peephole while jerking off. And Russell makes damn sure we know that these guys are jerking off. Nearby, China Blue is working a client into a frenzy. Her talent is to roleplay their fantasy, and for this one she's playing the part of a local beauty queen. Now, one of the people watching the peepshow is the Rev. Peter Shayne, a hypocritical minister who watches while snorting amyl nitrate. Anthony Perkins is pitch perfect here. I've never witnessed a more sleazy, sweaty performance than his.

crimes of passion 2

This film would have been brilliant if it were just China Blue and Peter Shayne insulting each other for the duration of the film, in between China's adventures with her clients and Shayne trying to stave off the urge to murder a prostitute. Instead we have the drama of Bobby and his estranged wife, Amy (played by Annie Potts, Ghostbusters). John Laughlin, who plays Bobby, actually seems like he is acting in a 1970s porn film. This isn't meant to be read necessarily as an insult - it should be noted that at the height off their popularity, porn films were indeed films with decent production values that just happen to contain a lot of explicit sex scenes. However, according to IMDB, both Patrick Swayze and Alec Baldwin auditioned for the role of Bobby and I can't help but wonder how much better the character of Bobby would have been in either of their hands.

crimes of passion 3

Kathleen Turner was at her height when she made Crimes of Passion, having broke out in the smoldering Body Heat and recently starred in Romancing the Stone (not forgetting The Man With Two Brains, either!), so she was a big name to be attached tothis. Her scenes as China Blue, acting out the fantasies of her clients, are brilliant, lurid affairs and it's fascinating to watch that moment when the "scene" is over and her facade drops almost immediately. 

Anthony Perkins will forever be known for his starring role in Hitchcock's Psycho, but his turn here as the Reverend Peter Shayne must be a very close second. He is the personification of the hypocritical side of Christianity, leering and lusting after women one moment, preaching for the salvation of their souls the next, when in fact it is his own soul which is in need of saving.

crimes of passion 4

Director Ken Russell is no stranger to controversial subject matter and iconic imagery, which this film is packed with. Crimes of Passion was deemed too strong for even an R rating when it was first released, and was heavily edited. The blu ray contains two versions of the film, one of which is the unrated version eventually released in the US. I imagine the scene most needing cutting was the sex scene seen in silhouette, when Bobby and China Blue get it on, moving through a number of different positions. Even withoutthat scene though the film feels incredibly sordid and dirty thanks to the main location, a strip mall filled with peepshow booths and adult video stores.


Crimes of Passion is a very frank and explicit conversation on the importance of sex both within and without a married relationship, and the hypocritical nature of the righteous and religious folk who both condemn and participate in what they consider to be a sinful profession. Both Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins are brilliant in this, John Laughlin struggles to keep up.

7 out of 10 MikeOutWest