I explore the mid-life crisis of John Cassavetes’ Husbands (1971) for Turner Classic Movies online, for the film’s TCM showing on Saturday, January 2.
The term “midlife crisis” became a familiar phrase in the seventies—and in seventies cinema—but when John Cassavetes released Husbands (1970), the term was just being born and the concept just starting to make its way into the movies. Subtitled “A comedy about life death and freedom,” Husbands follows three middle-aged men (Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and Cassavetes), long time friends and family men, in the wake or the sudden, premature death of the man who completed their fun-loving group. “I’m not going home,” proclaims one as the funeral ends. “I’m going to get very drunk.” Thus begins an epic bender, an attempt to drown their sorrows, escape their guilt and duck the disappointments of compromised lives.
This is a Cassavetes kind of mid-life crisis: they indulge their worst, most selfish instincts as they attempt to outrun the fear of mortality that has all but slapped them in the face. They carouse in all-night drinking binges, gang up on a poor old lush as they “judge” a singing contest among morning drunks, then abandon their families and rush off for a weekend of gambling and cheating in London. Only while safely hidden in a bar room toilet, where the non-stop drinking has comes back to haunt them with an epic round of vomiting (one of the film’s most controversial and divisive scenes) do they let their fears pour out. Yet these are inarticulate men, middle class husbands and fathers whose complacency has been shaken to the soul, and they slip into boyish giggling and sniggering whenever the conversation gets too personal. They can’t find the words to describe their feelings. Perhaps vomiting is the most honest expression of their condition.