90 Movies in 90 Days: Shadows (1959)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Shadows
Release Date: November 11, 1959
Director: John Cassavetes
Production Company:  British Lion

I’ve never watched a John Cassavetes movie before so I suppose it is suitable to start with his directorial debut.  This movie is credited for kickstarting independent cinema in the United States and is certainly more frank about race relations and sex than one would expect of a Hollywood film of the time.  The movie is about three African American siblings – Lelia Goldoni (Lelia), Hugh (Hugh Hurd), and Ben (Ben Carruthers) – although Lelia and Ben are light-skinned and can pass for white. The movie takes a natural/realistic approach and claims to have been improvised although in reality the cast did work from a script.

Lelia is an aspiring writer who has relationships with three different men over the course of the movie.  Significant to the plot is her relationship with Tony (Anthony Ray) who reacts negatively when she meets Hugh and learns that Lelia is Black.  Hugh is a jazz singer who has trouble finding gigs because his style is old-fashioned.  Ben is a trumpeter but spends most of his time hanging out in bars with his friends rather than looking for work.

I thought this was an interesting look at the gritty world of New York City nightlife and the daily lives of ordinary young people of the time.  The location footage of 1950s New York is great and amusing Cassavetes shot it all without getting permits.  The hip jazz soundtrack also works really well with film. Goldoni really shines in her performance and she reminds of the type of New York character I’ve met in my time.

Rating: ***1/2

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