John Cassavetes

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Nigel Andrews

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Shadows, Faces, Husbands: John Cassavetes' titles serve both to define and to impersonalise his films' subject area. The announced theme provides a broad orientation, but the audience is finally left to interpret the raw material—fragmented narrative, improvised dialogue and action, long sequences apparently incidental to the main characters—at will. Thus, Husbands … is both a 'universal' male's-eye-view of marital restlessness and a haphazard idiosyncratic 48 hours out of the lives of three fugitives from New York suburbia. The titles of Cassavetes' trilogy have become more tangible, as the focus shifts from the rootless youth of Shadows to the grounded suburbanites of Faces and Husbands….

In Faces, Richard and Maria, having vainly sought alternatives to the marital impasse, ended up sitting on the stairs together, speechless and unloving. Belonging had become a kind of imprisonment. In Husbands, self-styled a comedy by Cassavetes, marriage is less of an impasse: Gus and Archie return home without regrets, albeit with the bribery of expensive presents, while Harry simply walks out on his wife. Male comradeship, that recurring American dream from Fenimore Cooper to Hemingway, is a revitalising interlude rather than a final escape route for the three.

Framed between a funeral and a return to suburbia, their 48 hours on the town becomes an attempt to extract life from a world that seems to be dying around them, choked by false or inhibited emotional response. The drunken sing-song in the bar seems at first too long a scene for its tenuous relevance, but in retrospect it is crucial. Where the forced solemnity of the funeral struck no responsive chord in Gus, Archie or Harry, the naïve sentimentality of 'Apple Blossom Time in Normandy' and 'Pack Up Your Troubles' becomes a vehicle for real feeling….

When the quest for honesty takes them on a whirlwind trip to London, ambassadors of American bravado the the phlegmatic English, the film becomes a shade obvious. Cassavetes' uppercrust Londoners are caricatured … and one feels he is making use of a convenient but outworn formula, the Jamesian view of the American in Europe as brash innocent confronting old-world decadence….

[It] is a measure of how richly Husbands is an advance on pure cinéma vérité that the main roles demand more than the rough authenticity of the nonprofessional: they need the professional's pinpoint accuracy and quick-change command of mood. Cassavetes' precarious position midway between Hollywood and the American underground is fully vindicated by a film that combines the best values of both worlds.

Nigel Andrews, "Film Reviews: 'Husbands'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1971 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 40, No. 2, Spring, 1971, p. 106.

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