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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Hair­cut: A Stu­dent Film Star­ring the Great John Cas­savetes (1982)

David Bowie Talks and Sings on The Dick Cavett Show (1974)

Watch John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Appear­ances on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971 and 72

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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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