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
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)
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
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
Kramer vs. Kramer). With this ]
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
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,
Supplements: none (trailers for other films)
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: March 13, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson