Husbands (1970)

I have to say that I was a little disappointed by this film. I’ve seen a number of John Cassavetes’ movies, and I’ve enjoyed them. Despite not having a strong plot, I think that Husbands is the most conventional Cassavetes film I’ve seen, apart from Opening Night. Although there’s a few odd camera angles and rambling scenes, I don’t think that there’s much to set this film apart as something truly special, which is a shame.

For those of you that haven’t heard of this film, here’s a basic rundown. Three friends, Gus (director John Cassavetes), Archie (Peter Falk) and Harry (Ben Gazzara) are mourning the loss of their friend, Stuart, who has suddenly died of a heart attack. Cue a two day bender. On returning home, Harry has a violent argument with his wife and decides to go to London – his friends join him. More drinking, gambling and awkward encounters with women. In essence, this is a film about male, middle-class, mid-life crises.

There’s a lot of Cassavetes’ signature scripted improvisation (worked through with Falk and Gazzara) and I could appreciate that, particularly early on. However, I felt that the film began to decline around an hour and 20 minutes in, when the men returned to their London hotel with their respective love interests. It was a little difficult to understand what was happening as their voices overlapped and it got a little boring. Perhaps that was the point but I think that this has been seen better through some of Cassavetes’ other films such as Faces.

Anyway, here’s six little things that I noted from Husbands (bear with me, this is the first time I’ve organised my thoughts this way!):

Husbands (1970)[(018913)21-22-47]

1) Cassavetes doesn’t mind a little Jules et Jim reference.

Husbands (1970)[(030551)21-09-37]

2) The singing contest at the bar. It turns a simple ‘drinking’ scene into one that is much more engaging. There’s just something about the three characters sitting there, judging people on their voices and whether it’s ‘speaking’ to them that says a lot about the men. What it says I’m not quite sure, but it’s fascinating anyway.

Husbands (1970)[(055065)14-50-35]

3) Ben Gazzara in that little hat he’s stolen off a lady at the bar. Actually, let’s just say Ben Gazzara in general. Yeah. It’s been intriguing watching his work – and his character in this film is quite sensitive in comparison to his friends but also the most prone to violence.

Husbands (1970)[(082423)14-55-23]

4) That short scene where Gus encounters an extremely nervous patient at work, after his bender. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve recently had dental work myself but I thought this scene was great. It conveyed the near-hysteria of nerves as well as Gus’ personality or current state of mind (in that he almost seemed to play along with the patient, rather than make her stop) really nicely.

Husbands (1970)[(138181)21-02-26]

5) I’m going to break my own rule here and go with a ‘big’ thing. The lengthy scene whereby we witness the men’s awkward bedside interactions with English women is almost excruciating at times. It was hard for me to understand whether Gus and Mary were playing a game of cat and mouse or if she was an unwilling participant, and that made it difficult to watch.

Husbands (1970)[(150183)21-15-06]

6) “Order Coca-Cola and then give me tongue!” Peter Falk’s inability to express himself in Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence (“It’s in the air! There’s a lot of babies around!”) makes his characters seem almost pathetic at times.

Husbands is still an interesting look at the lives of middle class men in late 60s suburban America for all its faults but I felt that it could have been executed in a neater fashion. Cassavetes would work again with both Falk (A Woman Under the Influence) and Gazzara (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night) so I’d suggest watching those films for a better idea of their work.

I’m going to leave you with an interview that the three did on The Dick Cavett Show to promote the film. Cavett called it his ‘worst ever show’ and although it’s not hard to see why, the three’s behaviour actually kind of highlights what Husbands is about, better than if they simply explained the premise of the film.

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