While Cassavetes' most popular films (Faces, A Woman Under the Influence) spent their energies exploring male-female dynamics, the director was also interested in generic male behavior at 3 o'clock in the morning. Thus this weekend's series of Cassavetes films at the Roxie, spotlighting the ursine prowlings of Ben Gazzara solo in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976; screening Friday) and together with his buddies Cassavetes and Peter Falk in Husbands (1970; screening Sunday). Gazzara, one of the least open actors in screen history, was a perfect target for Cassavetes' camera, his weavings and evasions as a delusional gambler and bar owner in Bookie pitifully fascinating. Like Cassavetes, Gazzara also directs -- in his case the lame spectacles at his nightclub, starring the world's tallest strippers together with an epicene MC with the moniker of Mr. Sophistication (Meade Roberts).
Cassavetes loved the nightlife, and devoted a good deal of his early work to the world of jazz clubs, site of his interesting TV series Johnny Staccato (1959-60) and early film Too Late Blues (1962), which screen together on Saturday. A wolfish hipster with a perpetual smirk, Cassavetes buzzed through his TV series like a caffeinated all-night radio host, solving crimes and exposing frauds, while Too Late Blues explores the flip side of the macho behavior that would come to dominate films like Husbands and Bookie in the person of Bobby Darin, revealed here as not manly enough to handle Stella Stevens. The perpetually underrated Stevens is especially good here; Darin's "Ghost," meanwhile, is a rare exploration in a Hollywood film of male inadequacy, and as such deserves reappraisal, as does all of Cassavetes' work.