Some of my fondest memories growing up were those of my Polish grandmother and visiting her in New York for a week or two during the summer. It was so different than when I was with my parents in North Carolina. From the living arrangements to actually having a real basement to the subway itself, it was almost surreal in a very urban type way. Then everyone seemingly moved to Texas, including our family, and all of the innocence was lost. Today’s movie is Gloria, a movie set in New York where a six-year-old Puerto Rican kid loses his innocence as his family is gunned down by the mob. The only thing he has to cling to is a friend of the family named Gloria who has a few special skills of her own. Let’s check it out.
We are introduced to that funky saxophone with some bad opera singing (let’s not pretend). During the credits we are shown the artistic talents of one Romare Bearden before eventually giving us our first view of the New York City landscape at night. We get to see Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty, and either the Washington Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge (I apologize; it’s been a while since I’ve been in New York).
The baseball game is on, and we take a gander at the Marlboro cigarette ad. Nearby, on a bus a lady gets up, but then it suddenly stops, and she falls. She is able to dust herself off and exit the vehicle. Jeri Dawn (played by Julie Carmen) walks into her apartment building but is spooked by a couple of men as she makes her way to the floor she lives on. She knocks on her door and is let in by her husband, Jack (played by Buck Henry).
We soon learn that the bags are packed, and the family including their small children, Phil (played by John Adames) and Joan (played by Jessica Castillo) along with their grandma, Margarita (played by Lupe Garnica) are ready to go. Downstairs, mob hit-men are plotting the family’s demise. The doorbell startles the family, but they look through the peephole and open it anyway.
Friend of the family, Gloria Swenson (played by Gena Rowlands) is standing at the door. Jeri begs Gloria to take their son and protect him from the mob. But Gloria doesn’t like kids, can’t stand them, even. Jeri persists and Gloria finally agrees. The father, Jack, says his goodbyes to Phil. Gloria is willing to take the daughter as well, but the daughter locks herself up in her room. Time is of the essence; Gloria and Phil leave the apartment.
At first Phil doesn’t want to go, but eventually Gloria is able to drag him along knowing that the inevitable is soon to come to pass. See, Jack is an accountant for the mob, and he has been skimming off the top. So the entire family is marked. The mob hit-men finally make it to the family’s door, and then the shooting starts. Gloria knows that she will need to leave the dwelling with the little boy and go on the run. But can she keep Phil safe and away from harm?
The rest of the film is basically a cat-and-mouse game between the pair and the mob. We learn that Gloria is a gun moll and part of the same crime family but separated herself from that world a while back. Gena Rowlands does an amazing job here, and if it wasn’t for her performance, the film would be a dismal failure. It’s hard to feel sorry for the six-year-old kid, Phil, who constantly acts rude and tries to ditch Gloria at every opportunity. Meanwhile, the other characters in the movie are rather one-dimensional and are only there long enough to create friction with the two leads.
Honestly, I want to like the movie, but any real charm comes more from the depiction of New York during this time period than of the characters and pivotal scenes. Furthermore, for the type of movie it is, it moves really slowly, and the viewer is killing time until the mob shows up again to try to do the same to Gloria and Phil.
The other thing that bothered me is the treatment of Jack’s book, which I would assume incriminates the mob and would be a pivotal plot point. I hate spoiling things, but nothing ever really happens with it in the end. It just ceases to exist, which is bizarre, since the film goes out of their way in the beginning to highlight it.
The video is in its 1.78:1 slightly cropped aspect ratio. The cinematography of New York is well done here with lots of great shots including Yankee Stadium, Main Street, and even the subway. The movie’s best shots are outside in the light where one can see all of the detail and the grain feels organic.
However, where the film has a lot more trouble are the indoor scenes, particularly where the lighting is less than optimal. Then the dated master unfortunately shows its age, and you’ll lose detail, and the film becomes something of a mess. I’m about 95% sure this is the same master that was in the Twilight Time release (the TT release also has the original aspect ratio), and little to no restoration was done here.
The audio for this one is DTS-HD 2.0 in English. Subtitles are also provided in English (It should be noted that for the few words of Spanish sprinkled through the film, they aren’t part of the subtitles.). The score by Bill Conti (who did so many late 70’s and early 80’s wonderful scores) is brought to the forefront and given some room to breathe. It’s far from a perfect mix, but there should no problem with the music or dialog.
The sound effects such as the gunfire do have that hollow “pew-pew” as I like to call it that was present in many films from that era. Cars and the subway don’t sound that bad either but appear to be lacking something. It’s not a great track, but it’s serviceable. Again, identical to the Twilight Time release.
- Trailers: Gloria (1980) (Two different trailers), Gloria (1999) (The remake with Sharon Stone), Gorky Park, 52 Pick Up, Code of Silence, Number One with a Bullet and Lonely are the Brave.
Gena Rowlands was nominated in this film for Best Actress as part of the Academy Awards as well as Boston Society of Film Critic Awards. She won the latter in a performance that was worthy and honestly the only reason to really watch this film. On the other side of the coin, John Adames was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor as part of the Golden Raspberry Awards and won. However, this had little to do with John’s portrayal of Phil and more to do with the writing. I’d be willing to bet that’s part of the reason why John disappeared from the Hollywood scene shortly after.
The disc itself is using the same master as the previous Twilight Time disc and contains only trailers for extras as well. At least with the TT disc, it had a isolated music only track where you can listen to Bill Conti’s score. This one is hard for me to recommend. The only positive I can see out of it is that it alerted me to a remake with Sharon Stone (who I’ve always had a sizeable crush on). Anyway, until that film makes Blu-ray, I probably won’t give the original a second thought. If the viewer does decide to go see it, I hope you enjoy.