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Shadows (1959)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  18 March 1961 (Denmark)
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Cassavetes' jazz-scored improvisational film explores interracial friendships and relationships in Beat-Era (1950s) New York City.



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Title: Shadows (1959)

Shadows (1959) on IMDb 7.4/10

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Nominated for 3 BAFTA Film Awards. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ben Carruthers ...
Lelia Goldoni ...
Hugh Hurd ...
Anthony Ray ...
Dennis Sallas ...
Tom (as Tom Allen)
David Pokitillow ...
Rupert Crosse ...
David Jones ...
Davey (as Davey Jones)
Pir Marini ...
Pir the Piano Player
Victoria Vargas ...
Jack Ackerman ...
Jack, Director of Dance Studio
Jacqueline Walcott ...
Cliff Carnell
Jay Crecco


Benny's a hipster, moving in and out of Manhattan's beat scene, aimless, maybe close to trouble. His sister Lelia, who looks less African-American than White, is vulnerable and about to fall in love. Hugh, their older brother, is a struggling singer whose agent, Rupert, may be the only person with faith in his talent. The story moves back and forth, like jazz, among the three of them and what seems at first to be separate lives. Lelia meets Tony, and lets herself hope this is true love. Then he meets Hugh and prejudice gives Tony an excuse to cut and run. Can family and friendship bring solace for her hurt, purpose for Benny, and belief in Hugh? Is life more than shadows? Written by <>

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Release Date:

18 March 1961 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

Sombras  »

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Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Film critic Leonard Maltin describes this film as being "a watershed in the birth of American independent cinema". See more »


Girl at Party: The trouble with you is, you have a case of self-induced hysteria every time you hear the word 'existentialism'.
See more »

Crazy Credits

"Presented by Jean Shepherd's Night People" See more »


Referenced in Independence Day (1996) See more »


Written by Jack Ackerman, Hunt Stevens and Eleanor Winters
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User Reviews

"improvisation" at its best
9 May 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It ends with the declaration that "the film you have just seen was an improvisation"-at once making you feel like an idiot for thinking an improvisation was an good movie, and astounded at Cassavetes' genius...once again. Of course, Cassavetes told some guy it wasn't really an improvisation per se, on his deathbed,'s the story about a light-skinned black woman, Lelia, who passes for white, and her family: another passing-for-white brother named Ben, and a black-black brother named Hughie. When she falls in love with a white jerk named Tony, he is unpleasantly surprised when he finds out she's black, and from there it goes on about the three main characters' individual aspirations and shortcomings. Hughie is a jazz singer in the process of becoming a failure, Lelia's still hopelessly depressed over Tony, and Ben is angsty and violent in general, in desperate need of something to shock him out of his stale patterns of existence. Overall, I suppose it's really about stasis vs. change in human life. I suspect that Cassavetes had the plot organized enough, and it was just the dialogue that was improvised. The dialogue itself is very uneven - sometimes somebody will say something very memorable, other times it's memorably awkward. What's amazing is the extent of the amateur actors' embodiment of their characters. Cassavetes went through the acting class he was teaching at the time he decided to do Shadows, whispered in the ears of the ten best students, and this was the result...the guys playing Ben and Hughie are very good. At first I didn't like Lelia, but as the film progressed you see more and more she's one of those actors who gets better as the tension and drama builds - not necessarily the best with small talk. Shadows is hailed by many as the forerunner of the indie film movement (made in 1959) and it's definitely recommended.

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