A Woman Under the Influence is a 1974 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes. It focuses on a woman whose psychotic behavior leads her confused husband to commit her for psychiatric treatment, leaving the family even more dysfunctional than before.
Los Angeles housewife and mother Mabel Longhetti loves her construction worker husband Nick and desperately wants to please him, but the strange mannerisms and increasingly odd behavior she displays while in the company of others has him concerned. Convinced she has become a threat to herself and others, he reluctantly commits her to an institution, where she undergoes treatment for six months. Left alone with his three children, Nick proves to be neither wiser nor better than his wife in the way he relates to and interacts with them or accepts the role society expects him to play.
John Cassavetes was inspired to write A Woman Under the Influence when wife Gena Rowlands expressed a desire to appear in a play about the difficulties faced by contemporary women. His completed script was so intense and emotional she knew she would be unable to perform it eight times a week, so he decided to adapt it for the screen. When he tried to raise funding for the project, he was told, "No one wants to see a crazy, middle-aged dame."
Lacking studio financing, Cassavetes mortgaged his house and borrowed from family and friends, one of whom was Peter Falk, who liked the screenplay so much he invested $500,000 in the project. The crew consisted of professionals and students from the American Film Institute, where Cassavetes was serving as the first "filmmaker in residence" at their Center for Advanced Film Studies. Working with a limited budget forced him to shoot scenes in a real house near Hollywood Boulevard, and Rowlands was responsible for her own hairstyling and makeup.
Upon completion of the film, Cassavetes was unable to find a distributor, so he personally called theater owners and asked them to run the film. According to college student Jeff Lipsky, who was hired to help distribute the film, "It was the first time in the history of motion pictures that an independent film was distributed without the use of a nationwide system of sub-distributors." It was booked into art houses and shown on college campuses, where Cassavetes and Falk discussed it with the audience. It was shown at the San Sebastián Film Festival, where Rowlands was named Best Actress and Cassavetes won the Silver Shell Award for Best Director, and the New York Film Festival, where it captured the attention of film critics like Rex Reed. When Richard Dreyfuss appeared on The Mike Douglas Show with Peter Falk, he described the film as "the most incredible, disturbing, scary, brilliant, dark, sad, depressing movie" and added, "I went crazy. I went home and vomited," which prompted curious audiences to seek out the film capable of making Dreyfuss ill.
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