Dick Cavett’s Worst Show: Starring John Cassavetes, Peter Falk & Ben Gazzara (1970)

“Nearly seventeen minutes into an episode of The Dick Cavett Show,” writes the New Yorker‘s Elon Green, “the host, who had walked off and then returned to the set, asked his guests — John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara — ‘Are you guys all smashed?’ The September 18, 1970 appearance by the Husbands director and his two actors — who had, in fact, been drinking—was excruciating. They were on hand to promote their new movie, but for thirty-five minutes they smoked, flopped around on the floor, and generally tormented Cavett, whose questions they’d planned to ignore.” You can watch the infamous broadcast at the top of the post and judge for yourself: embarrassing television talk-show debacle for the ages, or brilliant piece of promotional performance art by three of the brightest dramatic lights of their generation? If you’ve never seen Husbands — or if you’ve seen and disliked it — you’ll lean toward the former. But if, like many enthusiasts of American independent cinema, you hold the film and the rest of Cassavetes’ directorial oeuvre in high regard, you may well find the latter self-evident.

Husbands tells the tale, in Cassavetes’ harshly realistic and personal fashion, of three men behaving quite badly. The director stars alongside Falk and Gazzara as a trio of middle-aged professional suburbanites shaken by the sudden death of their coterie’s former fourth member. Plunged into a drunken lost weekend of irresponsibility and self-destruction, serious even by the standard of the classic frustrated midcentury male, they all three eventually find themselves in London, trying haplessly to bed down with girls they’ve picked up at a casino. This unrelenting film still divides audiences and critics alike: Pauline Kael thought it “infantile and offensive” and Roger Ebert said it “shows an important director not merely failing, but not even understanding why,” but Richard Brody now finds it a “formally radical, deeply personal work [that] still packs plenty of surprises.” Cassavetes, he writes, “built these characters around the real-life ways of the actors who played them, filled the story with incidents from his own life, and wrote the dialogue after improvising with Gazzara and Falk.” You can learn more about this method in the BBC documentary on the making of Husbands just above. If I had to guess, I’d say the improvisation didn’t stop when production wrapped.

via The New Yorker

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • Jim Wolaver says:

    Clear slanted. All anyone has to do is read the New Yorker article cited at the beginning of the post. This author neglects to mention that their producer flayed the three of them alive afterward, saying “You probably unsold more tickets to this movie than most movies get.” He also neglects to mention their shrinking behavior once they were done.

    So much for this author’s, “you may well find the latter self-evident.”

  • James B says:

    I think that “Dick Cavett’s Worst Show” with John Cassavetes, Peter Falk & Ben Gazzara (1970) in their prime is among Mr. Cavett’s best episodes. While Cavett and his producer were horrified at the time, what they failed to realize is that they were recording a true part of what made John Cassavetes brilliant and special. By his own admission, John was not interested in the typical trappings of storytelling or film-making but rather only wanted to explore and create people and relationship-centric films that expressed a love of life and others. The prankish antics of the three men on Cavett’s show was all in fun, but also irreverence for the practice of behaving as others would expect you to behave. This is not trash TV that we have Springer and Rivera to thank for but simply the honest expression by guests that TV hosts claim to desire. I love watching this episode and find it more culturally important than Cavett’s “more important” interviews with stuffed shirts or self-imaged artists.

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