HUSBANDS (1970) C widescreen 132m dir: John Cassavetes
w/Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Jenny Runacre, Jenny Lee Wright, Noelle Kao, John Kullers, Meta Shaw, Leola Harlow, Delores Delmar, Eleanor Zee, Claire Malis
From the Turner Classic Movies website, www.tcm.com, this article about the film by Sean Axmaker: "The term 'midlife crisis' became a familiar phrase in the seventies-and in seventies cinema-but when John Cassavetes released Husbands (1970), the term was just being born and the concept just starting to make its way into the movies. Subtitled 'A Comedy About Life, Death and Freedom,' Husbands follows three middle-aged men (Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and Cassavetes), long time friends and family men, in the wake of the sudden, premature death of the man who completed their fun-loving group. 'I'm not going home,' proclaims one as the funeral ends. 'I'm going to get very drunk.' Thus begins an epic bender, an attempt to drown their sorrows, escape their guilt and duck the disappointments of compromised lives.
"This is a Cassavetes kind of mid-life crisis: they indulge their worst, most selfish instincts as they attempt to outrun the fear of mortality that has all but slapped them in the face. They carouse in all-night drinking binges, behave badly at an impromptu singing contest among fellow drunks, then abandon their families and rush off for a weekend of gambling and cheating in London. Only while safely hidden in a bar room toilet, where the non-stop drinking results in an epic round of vomiting (one of the film's most controversial and divisive scenes) do they let their fears pour out. Yet these are inarticulate men, middle class husbands and fathers whose complacency has been shaken to the soul, and they slip into boyish giggling and sniggering whenever the conversation gets too personal. They can't find the words to describe their feelings. Perhaps vomiting is the most honest expression of their condition.
"John Cassavetes has been called the godfather of American independent cinema, and for good reason: he made highly personal, aggressively discomforting, astonishingly intimate films about troubled relationships in the modern world. Husbands remains his most divisive film. Coming off the acclaimed Faces (1968), an intimate and emotionally raw portrait of a failing marriage that he independently produced and financed with his own money and transformed into an indie success story, Cassavetes was suddenly bankable and he managed to secure outside backing for his new project, first from an Italian producer with shady financial sources (production money was delivered in cash carried in suitcases) and then from Columbia Pictures, which came through with the money needed to finish the film and guaranteed Cassavetes final cut and distribution.
"Cassavetes conceived the project and the roles that would eventually become Harry and Archie with Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk in mind. They were not friends at the time but Cassavetes had an instinct that their chemistry would bubble on screen and that their talents would blossom under his way of filmmaking. They were all roughly the same age, all hailed from New York and all of them were very serious about the craft of acting. Gazzara and Falk had come to Hollywood from the New York stage and all three had toiled on TV series. Like Cassavetes, they were dedicated actors frustrated with the quality of roles they were offered. They wanted a challenge, a chance to stretch their talents, and that's exactly what Cassavetes offered with Husbands. It was the beginning of both a long working relationship and a lifelong friendship with both men.
"As with most of Cassavetes' personal projects, his initial script was extensively rewritten, reworked through rehearsals and improvisations with his actors, who were encouraged to bring their own ideas and impulses to their characters and conversations. Gazzara grasped what Cassavetes was doing and embraced it. 'John is more interested in behavior than he is in structure,' he observed. 'He searches for that moment of revealing behavior, for that surprising thing.' The improvisations were reworked until Cassavetes was satisfied and then incorporated into the script. The result is a mix of idiosyncratic insights and raw emotion between long, rambling, often uncomfortable conversations that are as much about what is not said as what is, and sold by raw, intense performances and volatile ensemble chemistry. 'I was breathing fresh air again,' recalled Gazzara years later. 'I had been away from this kind of work for too long.'
"Cassavetes shot over six months through the first half of 1969, first in New York and then picking up in London, and then left it to producer Al Ruban and editor Peter Tanner to assemble the first cut. Running just under three hours, the initial cut of Husbands focused on Gazzara's character and emphasized the humor of the scenes. It was a hit with studio executives and almost everyone who saw it but Cassavetes was unsatisfied with the light tone and humor. He spent nine months sculpting the film in the editing room, cutting deeper into areas of discomfort and finding a balance between the three characters. Columbia was nervous with his final version and pleaded with him to cut it down. Cassavetes refused, though after its debut the studio cut the film by ten minutes, footage that was only recently restored to the film.
"The reviews were divisive. Time Magazine reviewer Jay Cocks proclaimed: 'Husbands may be one of the best films anyone will ever see. It is certainly the best movie anyone will ever live through.' Rex Reed, by contrast, dismissed it as 'a laborious, humorless, banal and downright deadly little bore' and Pauline Kael eviscerated the film in her review for The New Yorker. Audiences were appalled by the vomiting scene in the men's room and the bullying of certain characters in the barroom singing scene, both of which provoked walkouts. (Not coincidentally, those were the scenes that Columbia edited down in their unauthorized recut.) Cassavetes touched a nerve and made audiences very uncomfortable with the behavior of his characters. Things haven't changed much in the decades since its release, but Husbands is undeniably a personal, provocative and uncompromising vision and a daring journey into the psyche of American men."