John Cassavetes stars and directs in Husbands, alongside Columbo himself Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. The three play close friends who are united following the sudden death of another close compadre, setting off a two day party and the onset of a midlife crisis for all three of them.
As the title implies the focus is entirely on the men, asking questions about the effects of middle age. It also represents man in his true form, as a perennial schoolboy. Take this as you will, but men will generally never grow up. Despite their advancing years and responsibilities – all are married with kids – they are ultimately selfish and self-centred to a point. They are also dedicated to their friends and have an unshakeable bond that can never be broken. Or so they think.
Filmed in a cinema verité style – that is, in brief, as if it’s being shot like a documentary (there is of course much more to it than that – click here for the details) – there are many long rambling takes without any emphasis placed on cinematography or other typical obvious directorial flourishes. It’s more a point and shoot type situation, which does help bring the viewer into the story. This could easily be something that’s taking place out there in the real world somewhere.
At the centre are three solid performances from Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara, although the extended focus on Cassavetes’ Gus is ill advised. It would have been better placing more of the story with Gazzara’s Harry or Falk’s Archie instead. Especially Harry, as he is the most broken of the trio, a massive near-violent argument with his wife setting off the plan to visit London and setting up the second half of the film.
A lot of the energy falls out of it once the trio get to London which, rather typically, is absolutely pouring it down with rain for the duration. Too much time is spent on this part of the story, and the ill advised attempts at scoring with women as if to prove their virility are likewise given too much focus. There was more going for the characters until this point, even if it was about the malaise seeping into their lives and their efforts to fight against it.
It does have a certain power behind it, despite its flaws. The glimpse into a man’s world, the crushing disappointment that could hit when you settle into a life you never expected to live. This is Husbands true strength, even if from a modern eye it could have been supported by some strong turns from the wives to emphasise the point. The only true glimpse of “the lady indoors” is Harry’s wife, who threatens him with a knife. It’s hardly surprising he decides to jump on a plane to London. He is just as bad, if not worse, as he threatens to beat her up and part strangles her. In context her reaction is entirely believable.
It’s definitely too long and could do with having up to half an hour shaved off the running time. But as an exploration of middle aged manhood it is a broad success. It could have just done with a little more focus rather than the rambling jumble of manliness that is the final cut.