Blu-ray Review: Husbands [Criterion] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, August 8th, 2020  


Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jul 09, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s a testament to a filmmaker’s legacy when the seventh of their films to be inducted into The Criterion Collection is just as fascinating as the six that came before it. Like Love Streams (1984), 1970’s Husbands is one of John Cassavetes’ more challenging features, but one that’s almost impossible to look away from.

Three middle-aged pals—Gus (Cassavetes), Archie (Peter Falk), and Harry (Ben Gazzara)—attend the funeral of their best friend, who was stricken down unexpectedly of a heart attack. Rather than return home, the men set off on an epic bender, fueled onwards by grief and a sudden onset of their own midlife crises. Faced with the prospect of their own mortality, they question where their youth went, what they’re doing with their lives, and what it all means. When Harry pops into his suburban New York home to shower and change for work, he has what’s likely a marriage-ending altercation with his wife. This event gives their bender a new set of legs: when Harry decides to make an impromptu trip to London, his friends choose to accompany him—leaving behind their wives, children, and cushy upper-middle class jobs for a few days of drinking, gambling, and womanizing overseas.

Husbands isn’t heavy on plot, but not many of Cassavetes’ films are. It’s an actors’ movie, where the three leads were allowed to inhabit and develop their characters in ways that few other directors would have the cajones to allow. Cassavetes would welcome take after take for improvisations, and let the film continue rolling long after many filmmakers would have yelled ‘cut.’ Real booze filled their cups, lending credence to their drunken antics, and many times their scene partners weren’t fully informed of their plans going in—ensuring that their surprised reactions to the men’s alcohol-fueled aggression were real. The final cut of the movie was a classic case of Cassavetes self-sabotage: when early screening audiences applauded the picture, the writer-director-star then became the editor, as well, cutting a new version that barely resembled the one that went over so well with test audiences, but satisfied his own expectations about the project he’d set out to make.

Your ability to admire the performances of its leads is probably going to decide how much you’ll enjoy Husbands. The movie spends nearly two-and-a-half hours in severely intimate moments between these three close friends, none of whom are all that nice, or even likeable. The director enjoyed cramped quarters and extreme close-ups; scenes, like one in a bar’s dirty bathroom stall where the men squeeze in together and take turns puking, are almost uncomfortably claustrophobic. Likewise, their regular abuse of the film’s many, minor female characters can be equally hard to watch. But, at least it makes sense for the characters, whom Falk, Gazzara, and Cassavetes appear to be fully living within. As a showcase for these actor’s skills, Husbands is a masterwork.

Criterion’s Blu-ray edition of the film is packed with exceptional bonus materials, including a long interview with longtime Cassavetes producer Al Ruban about the movie’s production history, as well as an archival documentary on the same subject matter that focuses on both Ruban and Ben Gazzara. The most interesting extra feature is somehow even harder-to-watch than the movie itself: an infamous 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show to which Husbands’ three lead actors showed up absolutely obliterated. The three guests ignore Cavett’s questions, take off their shoes, banter among themselves, and are generally very rude—you can’t help but feel bad for Cavett, who is treated awfully. This appearance might have come off as a piece of gonzo performance art had they not been so embarrassingly sloppy. Yet, it’s tough to look away, and makes it all that much more understandable why studios would be apprehensive about working with the notoriously difficult auteur.



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