Saturday, 11 August 2012

Alternate Best Actor 1974: Peter Falk in A Woman Under the Influence

Peter Falk did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Nick Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence.

A Woman Under the Influence is a film about the madness of a mother Mabel (Gena Rowlands) that causes difficulty in her marriage with her construction worker husband Nick. This is a very effective film, but it certainly is hard to say it is all that enjoyable to watch.

This film received some recognition for its direction by John Cassavetes, but what the film was most recognized for was the lead performance by Gena Rowlands as the mad housewife Mabel. I should say that this very deserving recognition that Rowlands received. Her performance is indeed an amazing achievement in that she stays on the very edge for her entire performance yet she never falls off giving an incredibly memorable portrayal of her strange character. It is easy to see how Falk could have been overshadowed by her performance.

Peter Falk's performance here is very reactive actually. Nick appears to be the normal one, and much of his screen time is spent dealing with his wife's erratic behavior. There are a few solo scenes early on in his performance but these moments are fairly standard with Nick just hanging out with his co-workers wishing to get home to spend time with his wife. Of course Falk does portray these well enough making it clear that Nick is concerned about his wife, and does love her, although at the same time shows that at least for the moment is not overly frustrated by the idea of not being able to see her.

Falk is good in his reactive moments though in his scenes with Rowlands as Mabel. The moments are of course tense as Mabel changes moods so easily and can easily  become very excited from the smallest moments. Falk is good in showing Nick's method of dealing with his wife. Falk portrays the role rather naturally in that he is able to show that Nick's understands his wife only to a degree. He good in being quiet when Nick does just try to talk to her in a calm fashion to bring her down from some of her more insane moods, but at the same time Falk is effective in the way he brings about the quick angry moments where he just tries to shut down his wife's behavior quickly.

Falk pretty much stay consistent with his performance and does a fine job bringing to life the situation of the film. He in a way grounds the film by having his more down to earth portrayal reflect off her off the wall one in a strange harmony. The best part of Falk's performance is his realization of Nick's motivations involving dealing with his wife. Falk does make it clear that Nick does love Mabel, as he always does try be as gentle with her as possible at first, and his later pain over having her committed are certainly brought to life by Falk powerfully. Falk shows that really in his anger that does come at times toward Mabel is not hating her, but brought upon by his inability to fully understand the odd behavior of his wife.

Falk's whole performance is not just reacting to his wife though as after sends her away Nick is forced to take care of the children himself, and has his own severe problems in this regard. Falk is very effective in these scenes as Nick's fails to relate to his children. He shows that Nick wants desperately to treat them in a fatherly fashion, but the attempts at warmth and wisdom always are shown to be forced by Falk. Falk is able to convey the fact that Nick is simply out of his element and is trying something he really is not used to. When Nick gives his children beer Falk portrays it not as purposeful child negligence, but rather as just a lack of awareness in Nick to the way of fulfilling his role as a father. 

This is a strong performance by Peter Falk even if his particular role in the film is very distinct. Even though he is the lead, and his solo scenes prove that to be the case, his performance for the most part very much is supporting Rowlands's tremendous performance. I am not really saying anything against Falk that Rowlands is the performance you remember after watching the film, even though that is the case. His performance is not nearly as striking and powerful, but it really did not have to be. Falk should be given his credit though in that he creates a realistic portrait of this man's difficult relationship to his very hard to understand wife, and successfully compliments Gena Rowlands's magnificent performance throughout the film. 


dshultz said...

Love this movie, love Falk. I was crushed when he passed.

dinasztie said...

I'm a fan of Falk and I like him in this movie, but I have to agree that he feels like supporting even though he's clearly leading.

RatedRStar said...

Im a huge fan of Falk too =), Im very glad he won an oscar on your blog for Murder Inc. Apparently when he lost the oscar to Ustinov he though he had won when the name Peter was announced so he stood up thinking hed won lol, then he fired his agent afterwards lol =D.

RatedRStar said...

I would also recommend Peter Falk for Husbands (1970) Mikey And Nicky (1976) and Wings of Desire (1987).

Nues20 said...

I need to watch this! :)

joe burns said...

The movie is dreadful to sit through, though it's not bad, just exhausting! I don't remember much of him, but I do think he was good.

As for Rowlands, she was my pick at the time, but I think I kinda wanted to like her more then I did. She is still great, but I felt the crazy scenes were a little much..

I'm guessing she's your pick for Best Actress, though I remember you liking Dunaway and Perrine. Have you seen Burstyn and Claudine yet?

Louis Morgan said...

Rowlands would be my choice even though Dunaway and Perrine are both very good as well. I have not seen the last two though.