Husbands (film)

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Husbands (1970) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Cassavetes
Written byJohn Cassavetes
Produced byAl Ruban
StarringBen Gazzara
Peter Falk
John Cassavetes
CinematographyVictor Kemper
Color processColor by Deluxe
Faces Music
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 8, 1970 (1970-12-08)
Running time
142 minutes
CountryUnited States

Husbands is a 1970 American comedy-drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes.[1] It stars Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, and Cassavetes as three middle class men in the throes of a midlife crisis following the death of a close friend.[2]

Distributed by Columbia Pictures, Husbands polarized critics upon release. Jay Cocks of Time described it as Cassavetes's finest work,[3] but other critics, including Vincent Canby, Pauline Kael, and Roger Ebert, lambasted it.[4][5][6]


Gus, Harry, and Archie are three nominally happy husbands with families in suburban New York. All are professional men, driven and successful. The three of them have known each other since their school years. They have grown up together and have now had enough time to discover that their youth is disappearing and that there is nothing they can do to preserve it. They are shaken into confronting this reality when their best friend Stuart dies suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack.

After the funeral, they spend two days hanging out, playing basketball, riding the subway, and drinking, including an impromptu singing contest at a bar. Harry goes home, has a vicious argument with his wife, and decides to fly to London. The other two decide to go with him.

They check into an expensive hotel, dress in formal clothing, and meet three young women at a gambling casino. They go back to their rooms with the women. Gus pairs off with Mary, Archie with Julie, a young Asian woman who appears not to speak English, and Harry with Pearl. However, their efforts to hook up with these women are awkward and unsuccessful.

Gus and Archie return to New York, but Harry stays behind. Gus and Archie express concern about Harry and what he will do without them.


Cassavetes has stated that this was a very personal film for him, having experienced the loss of a loved one after his older brother died at the age of 30.[7]

Cassavetes wrote the dialogue after improvising with Falk and Gazzara, and built the characters around the personalities of the actors.[8]

Falk said that he was asked by Cassavetes to appear in Husbands at a lunch meeting at which Cassavetes agreed to appear with Falk in the 1976 Elaine May film Mikey and Nicky.[9]

Falk said that he and Gazzara contributed to the Husbands script, but that the story, structure and scenes were devised by Cassavetes. Falk suggested the scene at the end of the movie where Archie and Gus arrive home and divide up the gifts. A scene between Archie and Julie was improvised in a hotel room, with Cassavetes at the camera and no other crew present.[9]



On September 18, 1970, Cassavetes, Falk, and Gazzara appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, ostensibly to promote the release of Husbands. However, they actively avoided almost every question Cavett asked about the film, and later admitted to drinking alcohol before the show.[10]

Running time edits[edit]

Cassavetes cut around 85 minutes of footage from the film in order to shorten it to its contractual requirement of 140 minutes.[8] After the film was released, distributor Columbia Pictures cut removed an additional 11 minutes from the film in response to negative reviews and audience walkouts.[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon release, Husbands received disparate reviews from critics. Jay Cocks of Time wrote that "Husbands may be one of the best movies anyone will ever see. It is certainly the best movie anyone will ever live through." He described it as an important and great film, and as Cassavetes' finest work.[3] In response, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that "seldom has Time given a better review to a worse movie."[6] Ebert gave the film two out of four stars, and wrote that it "shows an important director not merely failing, but not even understanding why." He also criticized the improvisations, writing: "There are long passages of dialogue in which the actors seem to be trying to think of something to say."[6]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker described Husbands as "infantile and offensive."[5] Writing for The New York Times, critic Vincent Canby called the film "unbearably long", and concluded of the three characters that "when it's all over, they are tired, but not much wiser—which is pretty much the sum and substance of Husbands."[4] Tony Mastroianni of the Cleveland Press wrote that the "[film's] dialog consists of fragments, of exclamations, of three actors trying to upstage each other. What has been done is undisciplined and what has been given us is unselective. The camera runs and simply photographs everything that passes before it. The microphone listens. It is like a big budget home movie."[11]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune included the film on his list of top 10 films of the year.[12]

In a retrospective assessment of the film, Philip French of The Observer called it "highly uneven, painfully drawn-out, deeply sincere, wildly misogynistic and at times agonisingly tedious. It is also intermittently brilliant, with moments of piercing honesty. There is, however, not a single memorable line of dialogue or anything that might pass for wit. On the other hand, Cassavetes's gifts as a director of actors are evident."[13] Conversely, Richard Brody of The New Yorker called the film a "formally radical, deeply personal work" that "still packs plenty of surprises."[8] Dave Calhoun of Time Out also gave the film a positive review, awarding it four out of five stars.[14]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Husbands holds an approval rating of 65% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews, with an average score of 6.3/10.[15]

Home media[edit]

In August 2009, Husbands was released on DVD, with the 11 minutes that had been cut by Columbia Pictures restored.[16] The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection on May 26, 2020.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Husbands (1970) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  2. ^ O'Donoghue, Darragh (March 2018). "Husbands". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Cocks, Jay (December 7, 1970). "Cinema: Never Less Than Human". Time. Archived from the original on September 9, 2009. Retrieved February 18, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (December 9, 1970). "Film: Very Middle-Class Friendship: Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara in 'Husbands'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Kouvaros, George (2004). Where Does It Happen?: John Cassavetes and Cinema at the Breaking Point. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8166-4331-8.
  6. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger. "Husbands". Retrieved February 17, 2009.
  7. ^ Kiselyak, Charles (Director) (2000). A Constant Forge (Documentary).
  8. ^ a b c d Brody, Richard (August 10, 2009). "Mad Men, Sad Men". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on August 12, 2009. Retrieved January 3, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Falk, Peter (2006). Just One More Thing. Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 185–192.
  10. ^ Green, Elon (May 29, 2014). "Dick Cavett's Worst Show". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Mastroianni, Tony (February 12, 1971). "John doesn't practice husbandry". Cleveland Press. Retrieved February 17, 2009.
  12. ^ "Gene Siskel's Top Ten Lists". Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved February 18, 2009.
  13. ^ French, Philip (September 29, 2012). "Husbands – review". The Guardian. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  14. ^ Calhoun, Dave. "Husbands (12A) Review". Time Out. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  15. ^ "Husbands (1970)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  16. ^ Brody, Richard (August 9, 2011). "DVD of the Week: Husbands". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 14, 2020.

External links[edit]