Gloria (1980): Crime Thriller, Directed by John Cassevetes, Starring Gena Rowlands in Oscar-Nominated Performance

This crime thriller, written and directed by John Cassavetes, centers on a former gangster’s moll, who goes on the run with a young boy hunted by the mob for information he might have.

Gena Rowlands was nominated for her second Best Actress Oscar, and the film won the Golden Lion Award  at the Venice Film Fest, in a tie with Atlantic City.

A Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, headed by Jack, is marked by the mob for skimming money off their employer’s profits. Jack also keeps the FBI informed as to the mob’s second set of books, and there is a third set of books, especially one that details the mob’s illegal profits.

Like Jack, his wife Jeri accepts her marked fate, knowing that the mob will track them down. However, they want their two children to escape, and Jack wants his six-year old son Phil to take the secret book, but Phil’s older sister Joan refuses to leave with him.

By coincidence, Gloria, who lives close by, is looking for Jeri to borrow coffee. Gloria, aging but still attractive mobster’s mistress, wants to retire from her former life, and plans to finance her retirement with money and jewelry kept in her bank account.

Jack and Jeri are frantic to persuade Gloria to take Phil (and the book) with her. Before departing, Phil is told by his father, Jack, that he is now the head of the family. Gloria has to cope for the first time with a child.

The gangsters kill the family, and Gloria realizes that they need to escape. She is now forced to tell Phil about her past and her relationship to his family’s murderers. She relates to him her time in jail and the dangerous situation they are in. Gloria withdraw her savings, planning to take a train to Pittsburgh, but on the bus she meets a former former friend from the mafia who scolds her for her careless behavior. Gloria gets off the bus with Phil and runs away to the city outskirts staying the night in a seedy motel. Phil tries to flirt with Gloria, just like a “real man,” but she quickly rebuffs him with a lectures.

Gloria takes Phil to a cemetery to say a proper prayer in memory of his family. She plans to send Phil away to a boarding school. Offended, Phil claims that he is an independent grown man who can manage alone. After leaving him, the guilt-ridden goes to Bronx looking for him. After a short gun fight, Gloria extracts him out and runs away to Newark.

The two settle in a hotel room and Gloria includes Phil in her plan to deal with the mafia. Gloria arrives at the location of the mafia, and meets her former lover, Tony. She ends up fleeing for her life, shooting at the armed gangsters.  Phil escapes with the money Gloria left him and goes to the train station, where he buys a ticket to Pittsburgh. Gloria, dressed in black wearing a wig, reappears and the two joyously reunite.


Gena Rowlands as Gloria Swenso

Julie Carmen as Jeri Dawn

Buck Henry as Jack Dawn

John Adames as Phil Dawn

Lupe Garnica as Margarita Vargas

John Finnegan as Frank

Lawrence Tierney as Broadway bartender

Cassavetes did not intend to direct his screenplay; he planned merely to sell the story to Columbia. However, once wife Gena Rowlands was asked to play the title character, she wanted Cassavetes as director.

The film was remade by Sidney Lumet in 1999 based on a script by Steve Antin, starring Sharon Stone, but was a big flop.  Other films inspired by Gloria include Erick Zonca’s 2008 Julia, starring Tilda Swinton.