Faces (1968): Cassavetes’ Intimate Look at Marriage, Starring John Marley, Seymour Cassel, Lynn Carlin and Gena Rowlands

After two frustrating Hollywood films (Too Late Blues, A Child Is Waiting), John Cassavetes returned to his independent cinema roots with Faces, a brutally intimate look at a marriage whose partners can’t communicate with each other.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Faces (1968 poster - retouched).jpg

Theatrical release poster

The narrative is based on a single day and night in the life of a middle-aged couple (played by John Marley and Lynn Carlin) whose marriage is on the verge of collapse.

Like Shadows, Faces was shot in black-and-white and in 16mm, and was later blown up to 35mm.

It took 8 months to shoot (in sequence) and 2 years to edit. Cassavetes encouraged his actors to freely interpret the emotions suggested in his script, resulting in a work that was spontaneous in form and “the realest dramatic movie ever produced,” according to Bosley Crowther, the New York Times critic.

In Faces, and later Husbands, Cassavetes depicts marital problems with harsh realism and hand-held camera. Manifesting his directorial signature, these movies are overlong and indulgent, but the excess is motivated by honesty, not greed.

Cassavetes’ pictures dissect relationships from different perspectives, and deal with the kinds of feelings people can’t express. Moreover, his films are thoughtful celebrations of the art of acting, centering on the bonds that define a family of players. Arguably no American director has so powerfully illuminated the complexity of these relationships as they prevail on stage and off.

Gritty realism informs Cassavetes’ work, putting raw material on the screen that gives it the look of cinema verite. His characters are obsessive talkers on the brink of hysteria who reveal themselves through their small worlds. Cassavetes dwells on the “messy” feelings and relationships that limit individual freedom, showing the confusion and clutter that riddles the yearnings and frustrations of the American experience.

Distrustful of fixed style, Cassavetes’ films violate Hollywood’s elegant framing and smooth pacing. His films are often mistaken as improvisational, but they are usually shot from precise scripts with rough camera techniques and long takes that are meant to expose the shakiness of middle-class life.


Richard Forst (John Marley)

Jeannie Rapp (Gena Rowlands)

Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin)

Freddie (Fred Draper)

Chet (Seymour Cassel)

McCarthy (Val Avery)

Florence (Dorothy Gulliver)

Louise (Joanne Moore Jordan)

Billy Mae (Darlene Conley)

Jackson (Gene Darfler)

Oscar Nominations: 3

Supporting Actor: Seymour Cassel

Supporting Actress: Lynn Carlin

Story and Screenplay (Original): John Cassavetes

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1968, the Supporting Actor winner was Jack Albertson for “The Subject Was Roses,” Lynn Carlin lost the Supporting Actress to vet thesp Ruth Gordon, who won for “Rosemary’s Baby.”

John Cassavetes was subsequently nominated for Best Director, in 1974, for “A Woman Under the Influence.” The 1968 Writing Oscar went to Mel Brooks for his comedy, “The Producers.”


Directed by John Cassavetes
Produced by Maurice McEndree
Written by John Cassavetes
Music by Jack Ackerman
Cinematography Al Ruban
Edited by Maurice McEndree, Al Ruban
Distributed by Walter Reade Continental Distributing

Release date: November 24, 1968 (USA)

Running time: 183 minutes (original cut); 130 minutes (theatrical release)
Budget $275,000