Opening Night (1977)


(director/writer: John Cassavetes; cinematographer: Al Ruban; editor: Tom Cornwell; music: Bo Harwood; cast: Gena Rowlands (Myrtle Gordon), John Cassavetes (Maurice Aarons), Ben Gazzara (Manny Victor), Joan Blondell (Sarah Goode), Paul Stewart (David Samuels), Zohra Lampert (Dorothy Victor), Laura Johnson (Nancy Stein), James Karen (Bellboy); Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Al Ruban; The Criterion Collection; 1977)
“Intriguing but enigmatic backstage theater melodrama with shades of All About Eve.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Intriguing but enigmatic backstage theater melodrama with shades of All About Eve. John Cassavetes (“A Woman Under the Influence”/”Gloria”/”The Killing of a Chinese Bookie”) directs and stars, with his real life wife Gena Rowlands as costar. Though overlong, depressing and at times tedious, it has its interesting moments and Cassavetes’ personal film brilliantly follows the arc of a traditional genre while seemingly allowing for the actors to ad lib.

Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) is an aging, neurotic and alcoholic Broadway star, who is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. She gives her director Manny Victor (Ben Gazzara) and leading man Maurice Aarons (John Cassavetes) fits over her vulnerabilities and nagging concerns while in their out-of-town tryout rehearsals, in New Haven, to open a new Broadway play called “The Second Woman,” that was written specially for her by Sarah Goode (Joan Blondell). The play reflects the same fears of aging that haunt Myrtle in real life. Myrtle really begins to fall apart when she witnesses one rainy night a traffic accident in front of the theater, where a young lady fan dies while chasing after her limo for an autograph. This causes the actress to soberly reflect on her own life and images of the dead girl are constantly recalled.

The movie spans just the events taking place a few days before the Broadway opening. If it was properly pruned in the editing room, this could have been an even greater film. As in all Cassavetes’ films, the acting is superb. Rowlands is especially sharp, giving a convincing pitch-perfect performance of a star showing her human frailties.