Indie godfather John Cassavetes transforms Gena Rowlands into his own little Pam Grier in this oddly sweet-and-sour, PG-rated mob melodrama with, naturally, a cute orphan kid. The ingredients ensure that the overall mixture is far from colloidal, but Gloria‘s most salient feature is Rowlands’s extraordinarily well-rounded embodiment of the titular role: an extremely classy ex-mob dame with a hair-trigger temper and a tongue of fire. When Mafia accountant Jack Dawn (Buck Henry) accidentally lets it slip to his bosses that he’s been jotting all their dirty little secrets in a little black book, they come by and waste him and his surrogate family, but not before he drops off the little moppet Phil with Gloria Swenson. Whether she’s lackadaisically serving Phil milk or fending off his incessant (and creepy) suggestions that she’s both his mother as well as his girlfriend, Rowlands fills her somewhat sketchy role with blowsy good humor and an honest sense of hollowed-out emotional vacancy that the film around her doesn’t quite merit. It’s no surprise that her supporting cast pales in comparison to her, with the possible exception of a string of NYC taxi cab driver archetypes (one looks and sounds eerily like Pat Ast of Paul Morrissey’s Heat). John Adames, who plays little Phil, had the dubious distinction of splitting the first Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actor with Laurence Olivier (in The Jazz Singer), and one has to assume most of the blame rested on his unique vocal delivery. He manages to perfectly capture what Paddy Chayefsky would sound like impersonating Alvin Chipmunk.
To anyone who was ever driven to the point of vertigo or nausea by the frame-on-the-run camera work of previous Cassavetes touchstones Shadows or Faces, Gloria's cinematography is surprisingly sleek and feline. There even appear to be a few tossed-off Steadicam shots up escalators and down hallways. So it's a relief to say that Columbia's transfer is about as vibrant as one could possibly expect from a Cassavetes film, though it's not without dirt flecks and occasional color wash-out. The monaural Dolby Digital soundtrack is likewise surprising in its range and clarity. It seems apparent that the original sound mix has been used here, which unfortunately gives unwarranted and undesirable prominence to Bill Conti's melodramatic string sop score.
None to speak of, unless the "bonus trailers" for Little Nikita or The Odessa File had you mentally upgrading this disc from a renter to a home video library fixture.
Star performances don't come by more brashly inviting than Gena Rowland's immortal .44 diva.