Color, 1974, 146m.
Directed by John Cassavetes
Starring Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Fred Draper, Matthew Labyorteaux, Matthew Cassel
BFI (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Criterion (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Optimum (UK R2 PAL), Pionieer (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Arguably the most accessible and widely revered of John Cassavetes’ films, A Woman Under the Influence followed two outstanding efforts, Husbands and Minnie and Moskowitz. In a tour de force performance, Rowlands is mentally unstable Mabel Longhetti whose husband, Nick (Falk), loves her despite her madness and tries to put the best public face on their relationship. Their own bond suffers enough strain, but the situation worsens when their children, friends, and parents enter the mix to create a difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape.
An even longer and more intense character study than Cassavetes' prior works, this dynamite showcase for Rowlands and Falk (reunited from Husbands) has lost little of its piercing intensity. Rarely do form and content align as well as they do here, with Cassavetes offering a compassionate portrait of a marriage from a vastly different perspective than one might expect. Once again material that could have lent itself to typical TV-movie-of-the-week material is dissected and humanized in a manner that yields increasingly powerful emotional dividends. Incredibly, the project was originally written by Cassavetes as a stage production for Rowlands, who felt that tearing into such emotionally fraught material day after day would be too much to handle. Instead it became a film, financed by putting the couple's house up as collateral and raising money from whatever friends and resources they could find. It was even released completely independently, turning into an unlikely success story thanks to champions like Martin Scorsese and a slew of critical nominations and awards. Of course, it didn't hurt that Falk, then a star on TV's Columbo, committed himself personally to the film as well. And for pop culture fans, keep an eye out for one of the kids played by a young Matthew Labyorteaux, who went on to star on TV's Little House on the Prairie and Wes Craven's Deadly Friend before becoming a busy voice performer.
Though several editions of this film appeared on VHS and DVD over the years, the first noteworthy one came from Criterion via its five-film Cassavetes box set. The film was given its only audio commentary of the set, in which camera operator Mike Ferris and sound recordist/composer Bo Harwood offer a technical appraisal of their work on the film; don’t expect much actor or auteur revelations, but for anyone interested in indie filmmaking methods, it’s a valuable and informative track. Other supplements include new interviews with Rowlands and Falk (recorded together, appropriately enough), a 1975 interview with Cassavetes and film historian Michael Ciment, a hefty stills gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.
The dual-format 2012 edition from the BFI follows the tradition of their previous two Cassavetes releases. The Blu-Ray contains an excellent, very film-like transfer that looks very colorful and detailed with appropriate levels of textured grain where it should be. This looks very close to what watching a prime 35mm print in the '70s would look like, and while a complete photochemical restoration might make it even better, this is easily the best edition ever released on home video. The ragged mono track still sounds pretty uneven, but them's the breaks. The Blu-Ray contains the regular theatrical trailer and an alternate 16mm one, while the DVD tosses in a couple of extra standard def supplements: "Falk on Cassavetes," the actor's 15-minute thoughts on his landmark collaboration, and a 19-minute Elaine Kagan interview by Tom Charity. The illustrated booklet adds a Charity essay about the film (including discussion of its real time approach and differing outlooks on the characters), a recollection about Cassavetes' distribution of the film from colleague Al Ruban, a 1975 text interview with Cassavetes about shooting and releasing the film, and a director bio. If you've never seen a Cassavetes film before, this would be a very good place to start.