Director: John Cassavetes. Cast: Gena Rowlands, John Adames, Julie Carmen, Buck Henry, Basilio Franchina. Screenplay: John Cassavetes.

A reasonably entertaining and refreshingly off-beat action/drama in which a former gangster's moll named Gloria suddenly inherits a boisterous young charge whose family has been killed by the mob. Adames, who plays the Puerto Rican youngster, has been given a notebook by his father that the mobsters want badly. I've forgotten exactly what that was in that notebook, preoccupied as I am by the grim memories of how hard Adames pushes the cute, mopsy, hyperenergetic kid thing. His performance is so cloying that those folks who give out the Golden Razzies for the worst contribution to film every year picked on someone a quarter their own size (yes, as I am now) and named him the year's worst supporting actor. So don't say I didn't warn you.

But the picture's a charmer because the inimitable Rowlands remains as frustrated with the kid as we are, and curses her own luck not only at being pulled back into this guns 'n' hoods nonsense, but at having that role thrust upon her just because she lived down the hall in the New York apartment where the orphan's family gets gunned down early. There's a real boost to seeing Rowlands carrying a gun and outsmarting thugs in trenchcoats, since the actress has always projected the cutting intelligence of someone that would be perfect for this role, though only an acolyte like director-writer-husband John Cassavetes would ever have thought of her for it. You're never sure if Rowlands is going to use the gun on the mobsters, on the kid, or on Bill Conti, the hit-and-miss composer of Rocky fame who perpetrates a score so mind-numbingly maudlin and string-heavy that even John Williams would run for the bowl.

I emphasize the two big detractions from Gloria because the rest of what's here—the nervy, exciting story, the ground-level view of a ratmaze New York, and the towering work of one of our greatest actresses—combines to make the picture a fine way to spend your time. Don't underestimate, either, the easy appeal of a shoot-'em-up that doesn't require a lot of gratuituous bloodbathing and doesn't pretend for a moment that any real weight hangs on the outcome of this plot or the loudness of this picture. Cassavetes' crew is taking a little break here from their harder-hitting and even more eccentric stuff, but it's a pleasing interlude from people who seem capable of filming anything. Grade: B–

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Actress: Gena Rowlands

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Actress (Drama): Gena Rowlands

Other Awards:
Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion (Best Picture; tie with Atlantic City)
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Actress (Rowlands)

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