A vintage 35 mm KAVI print deposited by Warner-Columbia viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Cassavetes / Rowlands), 27 May 2015
IMDb synopsis: "When a young boy's family is killed by the mob, their tough neighbor Gloria becomes his reluctant guardian. In possession of a book that the gangsters want, the pair go on the run in New York."
Gloria is one of the anomalies in John Cassavetes's career as a film director: a mainstream crime film obeying expected narrative conventions. There are even classic Griffithian parallel montage suspense sequences. Cassavetes wrote the screenplay without planning to direct but when Gena Rowlands was cast in the title role, it was natural for him to helm as well. The result was so successful that it has inspired further movies and even a high profile remake by Sidney Lumet starring Sharon Stone.
It has been commented that the story has an interesting affinity with Charles Chaplin's The Kid. Here the female tramp states bluntly in the start: "I hate kids, especially yours". Her maternal instinct emerges reluctantly but when the kid's life is threatened Gloria finally turns to a tigress protecting the offspring even though it isn't hers.
From his start as a director in the 1950s Cassavetes went against the grain disregarding commercial expectations but earned a good living as an actor in mainstream productions. It is good to see him here for a change as a director playing by the book with integrity like the classical Hollywood directors of the studio era.
The account of the gangland feels assured. There is a matter-of-fact quality in the way the gangsters act in the contract killing in the beginning of the movie and after. Gloria, the ex-moll of the biggest boss, is deeply involved but when she turns against the mob she gets to observe their ubiquitous presence everywhere. In this movie terror is not enhanced with expressionistic cinematic means. An everyday, matter-of-fact approach to the gangster story makes it thrilling in a realistic way.
The performances are terrific. Especially that of Gena Rowlands as Gloria the ageing moll who cannot get help from the law and whose life is in danger after she turns against her own people. In the breakfast vignette we realize that she cannot even cook an omelette. "You know what desperate is?" she comments right after the turning-point where she has shot at her ex-gangster friends for the first time.
The chase plot is also a clothes hanger for a number of social observations. The power of the press and media. New York traffic and taxis. Banks. Slums. Graveyards. Anonymous visiting rooms, probably for prostitution. Hotels with latent racism (Phil is Puerto Rican). The brothel providing child prostitution.
I like the ironic account of the gangster headquarters in the final showdown sequence. It is luxurious and simultaneously slightly ridiculous. A life of plenty that does not feel enviable.
There is a rich and wonderful Bill Conti score, also surprising for a John Cassavetes movie, perfect for this film. The dynamic structure of alternating full orchestra crescendoes and significant silences is effective.
This was Fred Schuler's first film as a director of photography. The cinematography gives us an inspired realistic vision of New York City. The movie starts with establishing helicopter views leading us to The Bronx. Schuler had previous experience as an assistant in Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall... Soon Schuler was working as a DP for Toback, Scorsese, and Fleischer.
The print has been in heavy use and looks like it has been originally struck from an internegative at a few generations of distance from the camera negative. There is the regular somewhat duped overall look and the changeovers are riddled with jump cuts but in a movie like this the occasionally somewhat battered quality is not fatal. The colour looks juicy and intact.
OUR PROGRAMME NOTE EDITED BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK