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Columbia TriStar
1980 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 123 min. / Street Date February 25, 2003 / $24.95
Starring Julie Carmen, Gena Rowlands, John Adames, Buck Henry, Lawrence Tierney, Val Avery, Basilio Franchina
Cinematography Fred Schuler
Production Designer Rene D'Auriac
Film Editor George C. Villaseñor
Original Music Bill Conti
Produced by Sam Shaw
Written and Directed by John Cassavetes

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Gloria's obvious reason for being is to give the marvelous Gena Rowlands (a national resource if there ever was one) an excuse to play James Cagney. Snarling and glaring her way through the ranks of Mafia crooks, Rowlands carries the entire picture. The majority of her scenes are played with a child actor who unfortunately isn't up to the job; and the awkwardness bogs the picture down somewhat.


Ex mob moll Gloria Swenson (Gena Rowlands) takes charge of young Phil Dawn (John Adames) when his family is wiped out in a mob hit. The problem is that the mob knows who both of them are, and they want the kid dead. At first wishing only to steer clear of the responsibility, Gloria builds a relationship with the kid, and together they defy and evade the gangsters.

Gena Rowlands, an actress with definite strengths, is beyond excellent as a self-pronounced overweight woman, up to her neck in organized crime trouble. Husband John Cassavetes took a break from his personal improvisation films to do this much more centrist gangster chase film; and he has a fine eye for the streets of New York City as they might be travelled by people on the run. Remember, a Cabbie can be your best friend, and keep your money in your sock.

There's a socko opening, involving the panic that shakes the Dawn family as the father (Buck Henry) tries unsuccessfully to get his wife (Julie Carmen) and kids evacuated before the hit men arrive. But as the picture unspools, there are a couple of factors (beyond its slight overlength) that bog it down.

He's cute and well-meaning and for some people may be just the ticket, but young John Adames is by any reasonable measure, simply terrible as the orphan who falls under Gloria's protective wing. Every line he says rings false, and his coached smiles and attempts to 'act' all look as if Cassavetes is off camera trying to manipulate his face from afar. Improvisatory genius don't mean diddly without accomplished talent, and most kid actors simply aren't up to it (an exception, the little fellow stealing Ice Cream in Kramer vs. Kramer). With this ] particular kid actor having to be led through everything, it falls upon Gena to make scenes work, and to the extent she succeeds, the show is impressive. But even she ends up talking to the kid one syllable at a time, as if near the end of her wits.

Secondly, a lot of Cassavetes' dialog for the kid doesn't cut it either. Too many of his lines just don't sound as if a child would say them, not even a precocious one. The adult dialog is just fine, so this must simply be a weakness that Cassavetes didn't count on.

The big thrill is watching Gloria cut loose in standard gangster confrontations. She's always more than credible when drawing pistols and blasting away at the baddies; we actually believe she could intimidate a table-ful of hoods. When the picture opts for standard sentimentality, it's a bit less successful; we get the idea that Cassavetes and Rowlands were doing their best for a mainstream boxoffice hit, and second-guessing themselves.

Columbia TriStar's DVD of Gloria is very handsome, and far, far better-looking than the smeary green prints I've been seeing on cable television for 20 years. The enhanced widescreen image focuses the action better. There are a few shots early on that look unusually grainy, but most of the show's visuals have a snap to them, and the color is far richer than anything I've seen. Neal Hefti's music is a big plus, especially the strange song heard under the titles.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Gloria rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none (trailers for other films)
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: March 13, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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