Criterion Prediction #243: Gloria, by Alexander Miller
Director: John Cassavetes
Cast: Gena Rowlands, Buck Henry, John Adames, Lupe Garnica, Tom Noonan
Synopsis: Gloria (Rowlands) reluctantly shelters her neighbors’ young child when mafia assassins are moving to take them out. Once they’re slain, Gloria’s obligation to guard the child is put to the ultimate test because the child she’s caring for has a ledger of sensitive information that’s of great value to the pursuing gangsters, placing a target on both of their backs.
Critique: Gloria is a unique entry in John Cassavetes’ career, not just as a director but as a screenwriter. His singular authorship feels both compromised and bolstered by this project. Just like his titular protagonist, a former moll who reluctantly takes in a child in danger, Cassavetes aired his own reluctance to direct the film since it was initially written by the director in order to sell it off to Columbia. However, his wife and frequent collaborating muse Gena Rowlands saw more in the script than its author. Because of Cassavetes’ admiration for Rowlands, he agreed to make the picture solely based on her endorsement. If this were any other power couple in cinema, one might have a justifiable argument that this was nepotism or preferential bias, but you can’t levy charges that Cassavetes’ admiration for Rowlands stemmed purely because of their marriage.
Cassavetes often referred to Gloria as his most conventional work, which, in comparison to his overall style isn’t saying much. While he might adhere to more familiar narrative beats, with some recognizable bursts of musical cues and framing devices, Gloria retains the aesthetic turpitude Cassavetes so strictly adhered to. Organized crime isn’t alien to Cassavetes as we’d see in his borderline-surreal The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but Gloria seems to be an inverse of his penchant for chucking the genre rulebook. Taking the familiar plot of the “crusty older person saddled with a kid” trope and sprinkling in some mafia intrigue, it lends itself to a pretty workable screenplay. If anything, it’s obvious you can tell that Cassavetes had no intention of helming this picture. But his admiration for Rowlands, and what she could do with a script “even a weak one” (according to Ray Carney’s Cassavetes on Cassavetes), as well as Rowlands’ subtly enrapturing performance, lends the film a steady hand. Cassavetes very loosely falls into a more customary execution, and it doesn’t feel like he’s compromising himself as Gloria has a series of standout scenes of sincerity and emotional resolve. I don’t think his respect for the crime genre is what elevates the film, but as a melodramatic narrative with criminal elements, it’s dynamic. Not as romantic or wrought as his more acclaimed fare, it’s still a remarkably strong movie, and Gloria works because it’s the product of a director who can’t deny his integrity or vision.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: With John Cassavetes, it’s safe to say that we can anticipate that nearly all of his films will come into The Criterion Collection. While this prediction is another case that sadly stems from the recent breakdown of Twilight Time and Gloria being one of their titles available on Blu-ray, it’s not hard to imagine this one coming into the Criterion distribution web. And with the recent announcement of his 1970 feature Husbands coming out this year, it only seems natural that Gloria would likely follow suit.