(US - 1976/1978)
Written and directed by John Cassavetes. Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel, Robert Phillips, Morgan Woodward, John Red Kullers, Al Ruban, Azizi Johari, Virginia Carrington, Meade Roberts, Alice Friedland, Donna Marie Gordon, Val Avery, Soto Joe Hugh. (R, 134 mins/109 mins)
There's a cohesive story in this impenetrable John Cassavetes character study that becomes more apparent in his 1978 re-edit, which moves faster, has some scenes in a different order, uses alternate or unique-to-that-version takes, runs 25 minutes shorter, and is certainly the more commercially viable and entertaining cut of the film. But it's his original 1976 version, running a frequently grueling 134 minutes, that's quintessential Cassavetes. It's also got one of the great Ben Gazzara performances: as Cosmo Vitelli, the owner of the Crazy Horse West, the most oppressive burlesque show/strip club you'll ever see, Gazzara is all hubris and swagger, a perpetual small-timer hoping to run with the big dogs. Shooting his mouth off and trying to look like a player at a mob-run poker game gets him $23,000 in the hole to some L.A. gangsters--intimidating Flo (Timothy Carey), and manipulative, glad-handing Mort (Seymour Cassel) among them--who laugh at Cosmo and his club when his back is turned and force him to pay off his debt by whacking a bookie (Soto Joe Hugh) who turns out to be the head of the Chinese underworld in L.A.