Friday, January 07, 2005

Jerry Orbach, RIP

A great actor, Jerry Orbach, died the other day at age 69. Orbach is best known for his role as Det. Lenny Briscoe on Law and Order.

Orbach, a veteran of Broadway musicals, also had prominent roles in Disney's Beauty and the Beast (as the voice of Lumiere, the singing candle) and the worst movie ever made, Dirty Dancing. About the only interesting thing about Dirty Dancing is that it launched the careers of Patrick Swayze (spelling?) and Jennifer Grey's first nose. Swayze's fifteen minutes were up a long, long time ago. Grey's first nose didn't even last that long. Anyway.

The movie I'll always remember Orbach for is Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, a great movie. In it, he plays the brother (Jack Rosenthal) of respected, established opthamologist Judah Rosenthal (chillingly played by Martin Landau).

Judah decides to have his mistress (Angelica Huston) murdered when she begins pressing him to leave his wife. And since his brother, Jack (Orbach) is mobbed-up, he asks Jack to have it done. The mistress is killed, and--a few sleepless nights later--Judah appears to have completely gotten away with it. Everything returns to normal.

At the end of the movie, Judah is talking to Woody Allen's character, Cliff Stern, a filmmaker, at a cocktail party. Judah tells Stern the story of "the perfect murder." Stern thinks Judah is pitching a story idea to him, but in reality Judah is describing the murder he commissioned.

As Judah tells it: the murderer escapes punishment for his crime. Someone else takes the fall, and the murderer prospers--there is no cosmic justice. Stern says, “Yes, but can he ever really go back?”

Judah responds: “In time it all fades.”

Stern continues to argue for some sense of justice: for the story to come out right, the murderer should take responsibility, driven by guilt, and turn himself in. "In the absence of a God, man himself must take responsibility," a line that deserves some thought, IMHO.

Judah responds: “But that’s a movie. I’m talking about reality. If you want a happy ending you should go see a Hollywood movie." Then Judah gets up and kisses his beautiful wife--a Hollywood ending, but subverted and twisted.

It's a chilling movie, yet also funny in a Woody Allen sort of way. It's worth watching and hashing out the ethical issues involved.


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