Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Husbands" is dull, despite "raves"

Cleveland Press February 16, 1971

"How can you be so wrong?" the voice on the phone inquired.

Actually, it's kind of easy, but I waited to find out what I was wrong about -- this time.

"Everybody says 'Husbands' is a great movie except you," he went on.

"Well, not quite" I managed to get in and he conceded that maybe there were a couple of others.

But there are these high powered fellows who review for national magazines and they were being quoted in the ads and the man on the other end had read the quotes and even some of the reviews.

Besides the man noted, John Cassavetes had been on television saying it not only was a good movie but that people who didn't like it didn't understand what he was doing.

Since Mr. Cassavetes wrote and directed "Husbands," in addition to starring in it, it would have been unusual indeed if it turned out that he didn't think it was a good movie.

As for not understanding it, well, maybe I did and maybe I didn't, but if there is any difficulty about understanding it, that is Mr. Cassavetes' problem.

Of course any review is a matter of opinion but folks tend to get wrought up about differences of opinion when it comes to important things such as movies, television shows and football games.

It's enough to make a man want to stick with safe, non-controversial subjects such as politics and religion.

Like the man said, if we all thought alike we'd all end up married to the same woman. But that was some other man, not the one on the phone.

Now, it's not my practice to review other reviewers. Heck, I can make enough mistakes on my own. And I try not to be influenced by other reviews.

It is kind of rough, however, to write that you were bored with a movie that a lot of others thought was utterly superb.

"Husbands', may be one of the best movies anyone will ever see!" extolled one reviewer ,which sounds like a bleak look at the future. ". . . Hollywood will be in a quandary come Academy Award time!" noted another, ignoring for the moment that Hollywood generally is in a quandary come Academy Award time.

And how about the one that said the movie is "rich in ambiguity?" If I had read that notice ahead of time I might have tried to find some way of staying home from work the day I had to review it.

Cassavetes is upset, it seems, because some of the negative notices were concerned with the vomiting scene. Aside from the fact that it bored me as did most everything in "Husbands," it didn't bother me too much. It is off camera, which is a blessing, the big trouble with it being that it goes on for 10 minutes or so.

Take "Brewster McCloud" for example. In that one Shelley Duvall upchucks right on camera and even though it lasts only a moment, it is the kind of thing that will turn off more people than a lot of off camera retching.

The besetting sin of "Husbands" is that it is dull. It is dull because it lacks craftsmanship.

If you wandered into a saloon and found a lot of people sitting around having a good time drinking beer and telling stories and singing songs it isn't likely that you would find their company as uproarious as they did. If you were part of the group you would.

Inside the group there is no problem in communications. Communicating with someone outside the group (the stranger, the audience) is a matter of skill or artistry or both.

There is no doubt that Cassavetes and Peter Falk and Ben Gazarra communicate with each other. But to be satisfied with that and to expect us to be satisfied with it are acts of self-indulgence.

They improvise endlessly and sometimes there is a glimmer of meaning showing through, but not enough to shed light. They resort to cheap tricks like the phony breakup, the business of performers supposedly breaking up over their own or each other's flubs. This lets an audience know that they are human too.

"Husbands" starts off well and its theme is clear in the first few minutes. Saddened by the death of an old friend, the three men suddenly mourn their own lost youth. Their spree is a search for an illusion, a notion of freedom they think exists outside their lives and which they want to capture.

Every artist starts with an idea. What he does with the idea is the measure if his artistry. "Husbands," in spite of its length, comes up with a short measure. The piling on of unenlightening detail, dialog that amounts to little more than unending gibberish and scenes that lack point result in a movie that is both hollow and dull.

To some people anyway.