Shadows (1959): Cassavetes Breakthrough Film, Love Affair between White Boy and Black Girl

John Cassavetes, then better known as an actor, began his directing experiments in 1957 with a hand-held camera, shooting in 16mm and in black and white.

He used earnings from his TV series “Johnnie Staccato” to finance Shadows, a semi-improvised film about a love affair between a white boy and a black girl, which he made for $40,000.

A cast of then unknowns brought a new dimension of realism. When shooting was over, United Artists gave him only two weeks to edit, after which the studio did further editing, resulting in a compromised picture that did not reflect his vision.

Shadows taught Cassavetes a lesson: He decided that in the future he would have to be his own master, even if it meant waiting years before making another picture.

Still, even a conservative critic like the N.Y. Times Bosley Crowther appreciated Shadows as “fitfully dynamic, endowed with a raw but vibrant strength, conveying an illusion of being a record of real people.”