A Woman Under the Influence (1974) / Cassavetes / Peter Falk

We talked a while back about the remarkable movie Keane, and a couple questions were brought up concerning depictions of mental illness on film that don’t collapse into the redemption-by-love / Sally-Field-TV-movie stereotypes.

We had just finished watching Return of the Secaucus 7 and were talking about filmmakers who self-financed their work through acting and writing for other people’s movies. So we decided to watch a few Cassavetes films.

This is a tough one to start with.

For one thing, Peter Falk seems only about 10% less crazy than Gena Rowlands. And the way some scenes drag on – not unrealistically – but there’s this horribly inability of the characters to listen to one another or for any character to put the brakes on the terribly choices that another character is making. At the same time there are desperately misplaced attempts at making connections with one another… oh geez.

The last act of this movie is incredibly difficult to watch. In fact, I stopped about 5 minutes before it was over. Rowlands returns from a six month stint in a mental hospital to a family that is almost hilariously ill-equipped to bring her back into a comfortable supportive environment. And within an hour she’s grabbing razors with her hands, flailing her arms, and Peter Falk is slapping her around.

Rowlands is of course incredible. But Falk even more so for me. This guy is so believable as a husband plagued by making the wrong choice, utterly convinced he is right, and most incredibly, he is the biggest single obstacle to Rowlands’ own sanity. Falk’s love will not heal his wife’s illness. If anything it will destroy her. How’s that for a message of love?

Oh yeah, And this: Return of the Secaucus 7? Also great.

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Mark Mauer likes movies cuz the pictures move, and the screen talks like it's people. He once watched Tales from the Gilmli Hostpial three times in a single night, and is amazed DeNiro made good movies throughout the 80s, only to screw it all up in the 90s and beyond. He has met both Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, and he knows an Irishman who can quote at length from the autobiography of Klaus Kinksi.

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