A Woman Under the Influence

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Woman Under the Influence
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Cassavetes
Written byJohn Cassavetes
Produced bySam Shaw
StarringGena Rowlands
Peter Falk
CinematographyMitch Breit
Al Ruban
Edited byDavid Armstrong
Sheila Viseltear
Beth Bergeron
Music byBo Harwood
Faces International Films
Distributed byFaces Distribution
Release date
  • November 18, 1974 (1974-11-18)
Running time
155 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million
Box office$6.1 million (N. American rentals)[1][2]

A Woman Under the Influence is a 1974 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes. The story follows a woman (Gena Rowlands) whose unusual behavior leads to conflict with her blue-collar husband (Peter Falk) and family.[3] It received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Actress[4] and Best Director.[5]


Mabel Longhetti, a Los Angeles housewife and mother, sends her three children, Tony, Angelo and Maria, to spend the night with her mother but is extremely hesitant to do so. She is a heavy drinker and exhibits strange behavior. An unexpected pipe leak forces her husband, Nick, a construction foreman, to cancel their date night over the phone, and Mabel is devastated. That night, drunk, she meets a man at a bar, Garson, who offers her some more drinks, and then he takes her home almost passed out. Despite her protests, he forces her to dance with him and appears to sexually assault her at the bottom of the stairs, while she hits him with her handbag.

She wakes up the next morning in bed and the man is still there. She is confused and briefly argues with him before he leaves, calling him by her husband's name and warning him that she's not in the mood for games. Later the same day, Nick brings his 11 member crew over to the house without calling Mabel beforehand. Mabel makes everyone spaghetti and they all sit at the table together to eat. Mabel seems extemely polite and warm to all Nick's colleagues. The meal is superficially pleasant, with Mabel asking each one of Nick's coworkers if they have children. Finally, Nick snaps at Mabel for making one of his men feel uncomfortable by being overly warm to him. The next day, Nick has an early wake up when his mother-in-law and their three children stop over before school, invading the couple's bedroom and making Mabel nervous.

Mabel's strange mannerisms and increasingly odd behavior continue to be a source of concern for Nick. She hosts a birthday party, but one of the child's parents, Mr Jensen, becomes disturbed by her behavior and is reluctant to leave his children alone with her, asking if she's been drinking. When Nick comes home, he finds all the children run wild, halfnaked, and he gets into a fistfight with Jensen, who then leaves with his children. Nick also angrily slaps Mabel in front of the children. He brings the doctor who treats her, Dr Zepp, to evaluate her mental health. Mabel grows increasingly angry and suspicious and Nick fights off the doctor when he attempts to sedate her, while repeating to Mabel that he loves her. His mother, Margaret, accuses Mabel of being a bad mother, drinking all the time, and leaving her children hungry and naked. She offers nothing to her son, she says, and the other day she had brought another man to the house. Convinced she has become a threat to herself and others, the doctor institutionalizes her, while Mabel grabs her children in despair.

Nick returns to work and is annoyed by the workers' interest in Mabel's situation. He gets into an altercation with a worker, who falls down a hill and is severely injured. He picks up the children from school in the middle of the day to go to the beach and allows them to sip his beer.

Six months later, Nick plans a large surprise welcome home party for Mabel's return from the institution. However, his mother points out that this may be overwhelming for her, and Nick asks all of the non-family guests to leave. When Mabel arrives, she is apprehensive and quiet, in great contrast to her former outgoing and eccentric personality. Nick tries to make her feel comfortable, telling her that he is with her and the hell with all the others, but to no avail. The evening degenerates in yet another emotional and psychologically taxing event for Mabel. She reveals she underwent electroshock therapy in the mental hospital and becomes increasingly distraught, while at the same time, she asks all the family guests to go home, because she and Nick want to go to bed together, making all, once again, feel awkward.

After the guests leave, Mabel has a breakdown and cuts herself. When she stands on a sofa, bleeding, and refuses to come down, Nick slaps her and causes her to fall in front of their distraught children. She appears to recover somewhat and puts the kids to bed while they express their love for her. Nick and Mabel prepare their bed together as the credits roll.



John Cassavetes was inspired to write A Woman Under the Influence when his wife Gena Rowlands expressed a desire to appear in a play about the difficulties faced by contemporary women. His completed script was so intense and emotional she knew she would be unable to perform it eight times a week, so he decided to adapt it for the screen. When he tried to raise funding for the project, he was told "No one wants to see a crazy, middle-aged dame."[6]

Lacking studio financing, Cassavetes mortgaged his house and borrowed from family and friends, one of whom was Peter Falk, who liked the screenplay so much he invested $500,000 in the project.[6] The crew consisted of professionals and students from the American Film Institute, where Cassavetes was serving as the first "filmmaker in residence" at their Center for Advanced Film Studies. Working with a limited budget forced him to shoot scenes in a real house near Hollywood Boulevard, and Rowlands was responsible for her own hairstyling and makeup.[6]

Upon completion of the film, Cassavetes was unable to find a distributor, so he personally called theater owners and asked them to run the film. According to college student Jeff Lipsky, who was hired to help distribute the film, "It was the first time in the history of motion pictures that an independent film was distributed without the use of a nationwide system of sub-distributors." It was booked into art houses and shown on college campuses, where Cassavetes and Falk discussed it with the audience.[6] It was shown at the San Sebastián Film Festival, where Rowlands was named Best Actress and Cassavetes won the Silver Shell Award for Best Director, and the New York Film Festival, where it captured the attention of film critics like Rex Reed. When Richard Dreyfuss appeared on The Mike Douglas Show with Peter Falk, he described the film as "the most incredible, disturbing, scary, brilliant, dark, sad, depressing movie" and added "I went crazy. I went home and vomited," which prompted curious audiences to seek out the film capable of making Dreyfuss (who is himself bipolar) ill.[6]

Reception and legacy[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89% based on 35 reviews, with a rating average of 8.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Electrified by searing performances from Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, A Woman Under the Influence finds pioneering independent filmmaker John Cassavetes working at his artistic peak."[7]

Nora Sayre of The New York Times observed "Miss Rowlands unleashes an extraordinary characterization....The actress’s style of performing sometimes shows a kinship with that of the early Kim Stanley or the recent Joanne Woodward, but the notes of desperation are emphatically her own....Peter Falk gives a rousing performance...and the children are very well directed. But the movie didn't need to be 2 hours and 35 minutes long: there's too much small talk, which doesn't really reveal character. Still, the most frightening scenes are extremely compelling, and this is a thoughtful film that does prompt serious discussion."[8]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film four out of four stars and called it "terribly complicated, involved and fascinating – a revelation." He added "The characters are larger than life (although not less convincing because of that), and their loves and rages, their fights and moments of tenderness, exist at exhausting levels of emotion. [...] Cassavetes is strongest as a writer and filmmaker at creating specific characters and then sticking with them through long, painful, uncompromising scenes until we know them well enough to read them, to predict what they'll do next and even to begin to understand why."[9] Ebert later added the film to his "Great Movies" list, in which he called the film "perhaps the greatest of Cassavetes' films."[10]

Time Out London wrote "The brilliance of the film lies in its sympathetic and humorous exposure of social structure. Rowlands unfortunately overdoes the manic psychosis at times, and lapses into a melodramatic style which is unconvincing and unsympathetic; but Falk is persuasively insane as the husband; and the result is an astonishing, compulsive film, directed with a crackling energy."[11]

TV Guide rated the film four out of four stars, calling it "tough-minded" and "moving" and "an insightful essay on sexual politics."[12]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker,[13] however, condemned the film as a "didactic illustration of (R.D.) Laing's version of insanity.”[14] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic also panned the film in his 1974 review of it. He wrote: "To me this film is utterly without interest or merit".[15] John Simon called the film "dreadful."[16]

In Sight and Sound's 2012 poll on the greatest films of all time, the film placed 59th in the directors' poll and 144th in the critics' poll.[17] In 2015, the BBC named A Woman Under the Influence the 31st greatest American film ever made.[18]

In 1990, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", one of the first fifty films to be so honored.[19][20]

Restoration and preservation[edit]

The world premiere screening of a restored print was held at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on April 26, 2009, as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Gena Rowlands was in attendance and spoke briefly. The restoration was done by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by Gucci and the Film Foundation.[citation needed]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[21] Best Director John Cassavetes Nominated
Best Actress Gena Rowlands Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[22] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Gena Rowlands Won
Best Director – Motion Picture John Cassavetes Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Nominated
Grand Prix Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[23] Best Actress Gena Rowlands Won
National Board of Review Awards[24] Top Ten Films 6th Place
Best Actress Gena Rowlands Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[25] Best Actress Gena Rowlands Runner-up
San Sebastián International Film Festival Silver Seashell John Cassavetes Won
Best Actress Gena Rowlands Won
OCIC Award (Honorable Mention) John Cassavetes Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[26] Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen Nominated

Home media[edit]

In 1992 Touchstone Home Video released the movie on VHS.[27]

On September 21, 2004, the film was released in Region 1 – together with Shadows, Faces, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Opening Night – as part of the eight-disc box set John Cassavetes – Five Films by The Criterion Collection. The film is in anamorphic widescreen format with an English audiotrack. Bonus features include commentary by sound recordist and composer Bo Harwood and camera operator Mike Ferris and interviews with Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk. On October 22, 2013, the box set was re-released on Blu-ray.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, January 7, 1976 p 46
  2. ^ Donahue, Suzanne Mary (1987). American film distribution : the changing marketplace. UMI Research Press. p. 292. Please note figures are for rentals in US and Canada
  3. ^ Seeing John Cassavetes|The New Yorker
  4. ^ Gene Rowlands|Oscars.org
  5. ^ Francis Ford Coppola Wins Best Director: 1975 Oscars
  6. ^ a b c d e Turner Classic Movies
  7. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  8. ^ The New York Times review
  9. ^ Chicago Sun-Times review
  10. ^ Ebert 1998 review
  11. ^ Time Out London review Archived January 8, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ TV Guide review
  13. ^ The Obsessed|News|The Harvard Crimson
  14. ^ THE CURRENT CINEMA|The New Yorker (December 9, 1974 Issue)
  15. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (1979). Before My Eyes Film Criticism & Comment. Harper & Row Publishers. p. 96.
  16. ^ Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle A Decade of American films. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 169.
  17. ^ "Votes for A Woman under the Influence (1974) | BFI". www2.bfi.org.uk. Archived from the original on June 21, 2016. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  18. ^ "The 100 Greatest American Films", bbc.com, July 20, 2015
  19. ^ Gamarekian, Barbara; Times, Special To the New York (October 19, 1990). "Library of Congress Adds 25 Titles to National Film Registry". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  20. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  21. ^ "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on September 1, 2019. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  22. ^ "A Woman Under the Influence – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  23. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1970-79". kcfcc.org. December 14, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  24. ^ "1974 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  25. ^ "1974 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  26. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  27. ^ Amazon.com: A Woman Under the Influence VHS
  28. ^ "Criterion Announces October Titles". Blu-ray.com. July 15, 2013. Retrieved June 8, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]