A Woman Under The Influence


Arguably the supreme masterpiece in the extraordinary canon of maverick writer-director John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence was a landmark film in many ways, not least because it was one of the first true independent American films, self-financed and booked into art houses by the director himself. This harrowing and often humorous drama charts the emotional meltdown of a suburban housewife named Mabel (played with jaw-dropping intensity by Cassavetes’ real-life wife Gena Rowlands, who received an Oscar nomination and numerous prizes for her astonishing performance, including the Golden Globe and the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress), and its effects on her blue-collar Italian family. Mabel’s increasingly bizarre behavior frightens her children and forces her confused yet loving husband (played with heart-rending vulnerability by Peter Falk, then at the height of his Columbo TV fame) to commit her for psychiatric treatment, leaving the family even more dysfunctional than before. The story unspools not through melodrama but in long, spontaneous takes that escalate in intensity as Mabel’s mental instability increases, resulting in one of the most devastating portraits of a relationship ever committed to the screen. The project came from an idea by Rowlands, who was interested in being in a play about the problems faced by contemporary women. However, when Cassavetes presented her with the script, Rowlands knew she would never be able to maintain the intensity on stage night after night so it became a motion picture. Cassavetes was eventually forced to fund the project through loans from family and friends, as the film production establishment feared no one would want to see a film about “a crazy, middle-aged dame.” As it turns out, the world did indeed want to see such a film, and A Woman Under the Influence not only went on to become a critical smash, but a box-office hit as well. (Dir. by John Cassavetes, 1974, US, 140 min. Rated R) HD Digital