Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another Night in Cassavetes Land

I've seen most of John Cassavetes' directorial efforts. Not all, most. They swing wildly from overwrought to muted, from histrionically unreal to uncomfortably real. I like them and I don't.

Husbands (1970) has been on my must-see list forever. I finally watched it last night. Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes himself portray three close friends who descend into a frenzy of self-searching after the death Stuart, which turns their quartet of pals into a trio. Archie, Harry and Gus are so terribly worn and old in their early 40's, years younger than I am today. I was taken aback by how beaten down a 40-year-old was 40 years ago.

They are each selfish and childish in equal, though different, measure. Not likeable characters, particularly Gazzara's Harry who, in an over the top but harrowingly raw scene, has it out with his wife and mother-in-law. Cassavetes' Gus has his moments of charm, but when he does his crazy Victor Franko turn a la The Dirty Dozen, he's tremendously off-putting and hard to believe. Falk's Archie is a schlemiel, a bit hapless and pathetic, but he's Peter Falk and that's always good enough. The acting so is wonderful that I couldn't help like them all.

The film starts in dirty New York City, another entry for my list of filthy Manhattan movies of the '70's. I do love that disgusting, gritty look. As in all Cassavetes movies, there are natural moments, and when the three boys cavort and carry on in the streets, the camera captures their antics as passersby watch on in amusement and shock. Archie and Gus have a race walk down the block and an old broad turns her head, mouth opened roundly in a stunning bit of cinema verite. Scenes, as always, go on too long, no more so than the singing around the bar table bit. It's two-thirds wonderful, but that extra one-third really sucks the energy out of it. A Cassavetes trademark.

Gazzara, now realizing his marriage is over, decides to head to London. His two buddies agree to go along for the ride and tuck him into his hotel only to return right home. In their own bout of mid-life crisis, the pair find themselves with strange women in their hotel rooms wondering what to do next. I couldn't quite understand Gus and Archie's motivations; it seemed they had happy family lives. Perhaps that's how men carried on back then. I won't say how all three come through their struggles, but a cameo by Cassavetes' kids, Nick and Alexa, are highlights of the movie.

There's something about Falk, Cassavetes and Gazzara that is mesmerizing and fun. All three are, in their own ways, incredibly undervalued as individual actors. All together in Husbands, they're not to be missed.

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