John Cassavetes

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David Denby

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

[The] subway-poster ads [for Gloria] with Gena Rowlands brandishing a snub-nosed .38, as if she were a taller, skirted version of George Raft, give a very accurate notion of the movie—a crime genre film with plenty of action and lots of moody underbelly-of-the-city flourishes. Gloria is a great deal of fun. It is also something of a stunt. There have been tough and even violent women in past American movies (Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan, et al.), but few women have killed quite so easily and with so little remorse as Rowlands's Gloria Swensen. Gloria is hardly a profound study in the psychology of violence, nor is it always credible; it's an exciting movie designed to evoke "Clint Eastwood, move over!" reactions from press and public. (p. 62)

[Gloria's shoot-out scene] is an example of what's best about Gloria. Working within genre conventions for the first time, Cassavetes has picked up his tempo while managing to avoid clichés. He brings his own, highly idiosyncratic melancholy to the portrait of New York—the inexpressibly sad apartments and streets of the city's mustier regions (the Grand Concourse, Riverside Drive), the background of generalized sordidness and paranoia, against which the occasional acts of kindness and courage stand out so surprisingly. Cassavetes stays off the beat: The mob rubout, for instance, is staged with complete matter-of-factness (the men report to work complaining of traffic jams), and Gloria, in her many acts of violence, strikes so directly and boldly that she half paralyzes her victims with surprise. Like the Western hero or some of the Lee Marvin characters, she is a woman motivated by a private sense of honor (as far as we know, she has no grudge against the mob). Her protection of the little boy is presented as a given element of her nature—a sort of natural female gallantry….

[Unfortunately Phil has] been saddled with such irritating babymacho lines as (to Gloria) "I'm the man! I'm the man!" (He sounds like a tiny Cassavetes blowhard—he'll grow up to be Ben Gazzara.) We never like this little pest, so Gloria's gradual warming toward him doesn't pull on our heartstrings as it's meant to. But Gloria is a fine action film, with a thrilling heroine, making her way like an enraged samurai through the dark and corrupt city. (p. 63)

David Denby, "Movies: 'Gloria'," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 40, October 13, 1980, pp. 62-3.

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