Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) is attending a marriage guidance group session because he is accompanying his friend, but really doesn't feel like he belongs there - although maybe he does. China Blue (Kathleen Turner) is a prostitute in the red light district who takes great pleasure in play acting to help her clients realise their sexual fantasies. The Reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins) spouts his own version of scriptures on the streets, trying to save souls and working up the courage to take desperate measures to do so. These three people are on a collision course that can only end in life-changing ways...
Ken Russell, in his second American film, believed the time was right to satirise the sexual mores of the U.S.A., and with Barry Sandler's script he thought he'd found the ideal material. When it begins, however, you only see the opening credits and hear voices which sound as if they are performing a bad play, so you could be forgiven for thinking that's what you'll see when the credits cease. Yet you don't, the dialogue is supposed to be convincingly taking on waspish attitudes towards marriage, and Laughlin is meant to be genuine in his bafflement.
You can understand why Bobby doesn't go along with the withering accusations that his wife is unsatisfied in the bedroom, but of course his marriage does indeed turn out to be in trouble. From the first fifteen minutes, it looks like this will be another sleazy thriller about a serial killer, with Perkins filling that role as he had many times before (he still gave it one hundred percent - what a trouper!), yet there are signs that Sandler is more comfortable with delineating marital problems. You've paid to see a sexy thriller...
...but what you get is a marriage guidance counselling session. No wonder Bobby's wife Amy (Annie Potts) isn't happy, as she makes no secret of having fallen out of love with him, and it's true they don't seem evenly matched with he far more immature than she. All very well, and when Bobby gets a job to follow an employee of a ladies' sportswear manufacturer whose boss thinks she is indulging in industrial espionage he finds not only her secret, but what is missing from his relationship with his wife. The employee is Joanna Crane, whose alias is the prostitute China Blue: yes, even though she doesn't need to financially, she has sex for money. Is this an example of spoofing American sexual fantasies or are we supposed to take that bit seriously?
It's difficult to tell, chiefly because of Russell's insistence on making his film as lurid as possible. The heightened, close to hysterical style of Crimes of Passion takes quite some getting used to, not least due to Rick Wakeman's fingernails down the blackboard score which hammers the same burst of classical music into the ground. On the plus side, Turner manages to make enough out of her role to elicit interest in what Joanne will do next (like raping a policeman! Take that, men in general!), but she's as much a fantasy construction as her role playing. Sadly, for a thriller it's all so over the top that suspense is at a minimum, and considering how ridiculous it is from the first frame it's best approached as camp. The moral? Once husband and wife stop having sex with each other their marriage is over, apparently.
It was trips to the cinema with his mother that made British director, writer and producer Ken Russell a lifelong film fan and this developed into making his own short films. From there, he directed dramas on famous composers for the BBC, and was soon making his own features.
After the seventies, which he ended with the biopic Valentino, his popularity declined somewhat with Altered States suffering production difficulties and later projects difficult to get off the ground. Nevertheless, he directed Crimes of Passion, Gothic, Salome's Last Dance, cult horror Lair of the White Worm and The Rainbow in the eighties, but the nineties and beyond saw more erratic output, with many short films that went largely unseen, although a UK TV series of Lady Chatterley was a success. At the age of 79 he appeared on reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother but walked out after a few days. Russell was one of Britain's most distinctive talents, and his way of going passionately over the top was endearing and audacious, while he rarely lost sight of his stories' emotional aspects.