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Ken Russell American films

"There are lapses, but this is in the main a comedy so black that it recaptures some of the cinema's long-lost power to shock" (TR in Time Out, no date,  click here)

Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion from 1984, a flawed film about sexuality.  Kathleen Turner is China Blue a high class hooker, though during the day she works as a fashion designer.  Anthony Perkins is a fake preacher who becomes obsessed by China Blue.

The hooker theme is tackled with typical Russell restraint regarding sex between two adults, but the plot interlinks with a couple, played by John Laughlin and Annie Potts (in Ghostbusters and the follow-up as well as the remake) in a failed marriage.  Their scenes do drag with poor dialogue, and the two stories never really gel.

Kathleen Turner Crimes of Passsion 

Kathleen Turner plays China Blue, a high class prostitute who turns out to be an intellectual and who is doing it because... etc. Even Barbra Streisand has played a similar role.  Despite the cliché role- the film was meant to break the cliché- she plays well.

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion

Antony Perkins plays an oversexed priest, too similar to Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter to be truly convincing. 

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion  Ken Russell Crimes of Passion Anthony Perkins

The saint (with a street light halo) and the sinner (with a night club heart).

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion  

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion

The priest has sexual fantasies linked to murder.  The killing of the dancing girl is actually in his imagination as a sex doll is ripped apart.

Sexuality is a theme in the film, everyone is either sexually repressed or over-active or both. Marriages are a sham and there are no true relationships.  The couple in the story have a marriage where they cannot even talk to each other face-to-face.

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion 

Despite its many faults, like many of Russell's lesser films, it grows on you with some subtle scenes emerging and some of the more over-the-top scenes becoming enjoyable by their excess.  The two main actors(Turner and Perkins) give very good performances.

"Crimes of Passion is best off when it makes the least sense. All too often, it becomes just lucid enough for the extreme tawdriness of the material to take over." (Janet Maslin, New York Times, 19 Oct 1984).

"Despite the unhinged crash zooms and implacable editing, Crimes Of Passion ripples with dolour through its quieter moments. When Grady calls China and asks if she’s alone, an “Ain’t we all?” is drawled... For all its prurient Wonderland stylings, Crimes Of Passion is classical noir at its lonely, broken heart." (James Kloda, in The Dark Side here, 11 Oct 2016).

Kathleen Turner says:

“I feel to this day it was some of my best work even though I wasn’t so thrilled about the film as a whole… Ken Russell, the director, is truly a genius, but a mad, self-sabotaging genius. And the writer of the script, who I believe had some producing power, was easily one of the most unpleasant people I have ever worked with... Ken was drinking a great deal at the time. As the days went on, things got increasingly out of hand and there was no order… And Anthony had an appalling drug habit”.

On China Blue “Her sense of worthlessness was reinforced by becoming China Blue. But at the same time, she proved her power by becoming sexually attractive to men.  I see that confusion about sexuality in many women, and ultimately in myself.  I hoped other women would see it and identify with her when she regains her sense of self... One of the most famous scenes- and the most moving- was a beautiful one in which a dying man's wife hires China Blue.  The wife can't bring herself to sleep with him, but wants him to 'feel like a man.' China Blue takes off her dress and shoes and is in her bra and panties when the man says, 'Stop, I can't do this. I love my wife. I understand, but I can't do this.' It was really so touching. The writer wanted me to strip altogether in that scene.  I said… ‘That's not what it's about.' What the scene was about to me is what China does next. She takes off the blond wig, which symbolizes her identity as China Blue, and tells him her real name.  She gives this man the gift of her own vulnerability as he's giving his back to her”.

(Kathleen Turner and Gloria Veldt, Send Yourself Roses, 2008).




Kathleen Turner was emerging as a major female lead with the role in Romancing the Stone.  "Ken Russell was one of a kind. He wanted to bring the lives of all the great composers to the screen, like the one about Tchaikovsky with Richard Chamberlain [1971’s The Music Lovers]. That’s what he saw as his essential work.  But in between those, Ken had to make Hollywood films because he didn’t wanna lose his place in the zeitgeist.  He wanted to have one foot in Hollywood’s door, which meant he shot himself in that foot a lot on something like Crimes of Passion… But Ken was a genius, and I wanted to work with him"  (The Many Lives of Kathleen Turner by Keaton Bell, in Vogue 13 Dec 2021 click here).

Anthony Perkins

Antony Perkins plays his typecast Psycho role- women's clothes, long knives- which is a pity as he a good actor, for example (as well as the excellent Psycho) The Trial by Welles, and Catch-22.  Given the restraints he is good.  His film before Crimes of Passion was Psycho II and the film after was Psycho III.

Kathleen Turner says "Anthony Perkins was a nightmare. It was such a shame to watch- he would huff benzyl nitrate before every take… Anthony would break into sweats, turn bright red, and start mumbling very fast and incoherently. Anything we’d rehearsed before the scene would completely go out the window.  And Ken was hardly one to criticize him because he was always drunk" (Keaton Bell, ibid).

She also says "...Ken Russell is a genius. He doesn't always make great films, and I don't' think "Crimes of Passion" is a great film, but it is some of the best work I've ever done, so there!" (interview by Gary M. Kraker, Salon, 23 Sept 2022, click here for Salon site)

Molly and Victoria Russell, Ken's children, appear in the video within the film.

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion Rick Wakeman 

Rick Wakeman does the music (as in Lisztomania) also appears in a tiny cameo role as the honeymoon photographer. The music with its repetitive China Blue theme (It's a Lovely Life) is effective.

Pamela Anderson has a minor role as a hooker.

Dick Bush, a Russell regular, does cinematography and Brian Tagg the editing, another regular and he also did Whore which has some similar themes.  The writer was Barry Sandler.

Best Image

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion

The bird in the small coffin.

Best Scene

The preacher seeing China Blue for the first time, walking in a crowd dressed in blacks and greys while she is dressed in bright blue.


Kathleen Turner Crimes of Passion

In one sex scene Turner dresses as a nun.  Sexuality (repressed and promiscuous).  Phallic symbols.
There is a film within a film.  There is a video within the film.
The elements: there is a Pre-Raphaelite painting of a drowned women, and in a dream sequence the couple dive into a pool.

Ken Russell Crimes of Passion

A frequent image in Ken's films, the man through the woman's legs - compare with Tina Turner in Tommy.


Other films released in the same year include The Killing Fields, David Lean's A Passage to India, John Carpenter's Starman and Ghostbusters.

The Killing Fields  A Passage to India  Starman  Ghostbusters


More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore


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