|Directed by||John Cassavetes|
|Produced by||Al Ruban|
|Written by||John Cassavetes|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|December 8, 1970|
Husbands is a 1970 film written and directed by John Cassavetes. This ensemble film, which depicts three middle class men in the throes of a midlife crisis following the death of a close friend, stars Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and Cassavetes.
The film, in cinéma vérité style, was described by Time magazine as Cassavetes' finest work while condemned by other prominent critics. One recent critic described it as a "devastatingly bleak view of the emptiness of suburban life."
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, the first friend from their fast disappearing youth, dies suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack.
They have difficulty coping with the death and everywhere they turn or flee in the city they can't seem to run from it. They spend two days hanging out, playing basketball, sleeping in the subways, 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 Tynan, Archie with Julie, a young Asian woman who appears not to speak English, and Harry with Pearl Billingham. However, their efforts to hook up with these women are awkward and unsuccessful. Flying, even to another continent, has not saved their youth. They discover it is gone, never to return.
Gus and Archie decide to go back to New York, but Harry stays behind. Gus and Archie express concern about Harry and what he will do without them.
Cassavetes said this was a very personal film for him, having known very well the effect of losing someone close after his older brother died at the age of 30.
Cassavetes wrote the dialogue after improvising with Falk and Gazzara, and built the characters around the personalities of the actors.
Falk and Gazzara appeared in subsequent Cassavetes films, with Gazzara appearing in Opening Night (1977) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), and Falk appearing in A Woman Under the Influence (1974).
In his 2006 memoir, Just One More Thing, 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 Elaine May film Mikey and Nicky.
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.
Cassavetes needed to cut an hour and a half from the film in order to shorten it to its contractual requirement of 140 minutes. Columbia cut another eleven minutes in response to negative reviews, which was restored upon DVD release in August 2009. The 85 minutes that were cut have never been found.
The film received dramatically disparate receptions, with some prominent critics loving the film and others hating it. Life magazine put Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara on its cover, and Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel put the film on his list of top ten films of the year.
Critic Jay Cocks said in Time magazine 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. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert said that "seldom has Time given a better review to a worse movie." New Yorker critic Pauline Kael described Husbands as "infantile and offensive."
Writing in The New York Times, Vincent Canby said of the film that, like Faces, which was "rambling and funny and accurate, and which I admired, the new film demonstrates a concern for panicky, inarticulate squares that is so unpatronizing that it comes close to being reverential in a solemnly religious sense." But Canby said the film was "unbearably long," and said, "It's as if someone decided to photograph a tug-of-war and photographed only the rope between the contestants." He said 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."
Ebert's review said that Husbands "is disappointing in the way Antonioni's Zabriskie Point was. It shows an important director not merely failing, but not even understanding why." Ebert found the actors' improvisations unsuccessful: "There are long passages of dialogue in which the actors seem to be trying to think of something to say." A Cleveland Press critic said that "the 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."
The Guardian: "The result is 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."
Reviewing a DVD release of the film in August 2009, Richard Brody of the New Yorker said that "this formally radical, deeply personal work still packs plenty of surprises."
Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara made a notorious appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on September 18, 1970, ostensibly to promote the movie, but actively avoiding almost every question Cavett asked about it. They admitted to drinking before the show.
- Cocks, Jay (2007-12-07). "Never Less Than Human". Time magazine. Retrieved 2009-02-18.
- Kouvaros, George (2004). Where does it happen?: John Cassavetes and cinema at the breaking point. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8166-4331-8.
- Canby, Vincent (Dec 9, 1970). "Film: Very Middle-Class Friendship:Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara in 'Husbands'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- "Husbands Review". Time Out Film Guide. Archived from the original on 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2009-02-16.
- "A Constant Forge" documentary, 2000. Written and directed by Charles Kiselyak
- Brody, Richard (2009-08-10). "Mad Men, Sad Men". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
- Falk, Peter (2006). Just One More Thing. Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 185–192.
- "Gene Siskel's Top Ten Lists". Retrieved 2009-02-18.
- Ebert, Roger. "Husbands". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
- Mastroianni, Tony (February 12, 1971). "John doesn't practice husbandry". Cleveland Press. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
- Husbands – review
- "Dick Cavett’s Worst Show", by Elon Green, The New Yorker