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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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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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PG | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

18 March 1961 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

Sombras  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Because of the success of this film, writer-director John Cassavetes got offered movies from major studios. This resulted in Cassavetes directing two studio pictures, Too Late Blues (1961) and A Child Is Waiting (1963). See more »


Tony: I need the key for 042!
David: You can't get it, Elaine's not in.
Rupert: Where is she?
David: She's dealing with the raccoons, man.
See more »

Crazy Credits

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


References Desperate Journey (1942) See more »


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

Enchanting time capsule of late '50s New York
28 October 2006 | by (The Dutch Mountains) – See all my reviews

Shot on a minimal budget of $40,000 with a skeleton six person crew, SHADOWS offers an observation of the tensions and lives of three siblings in an African-American family in which two of the three siblings, Ben (Ben Carruthers) and Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), are light-skinned and able to pass for white. Cassavetes demanded that the actors retain their real names to reflect the actual conflicts within the group but saw the film as being concerned with human problems as opposed imply to racial ones. Cassavetes shot the film in ten minute takes and jagged editing, a reaction against 'seamless' Hollywood production values. Cassavetes main inspiration - at least in the cinematic style the film was shot - were the Italian neo-realists whilst also professing admiration for Welles' pioneering spirit. The use of amateurs and improvisation might resemble some of the Italian neo-realist directors, but with his bebop score by Charles Mingus ans Shafi Hadi, the film feels very different, very American, unlike anything made before really.

The song with the feathered girls, "I feel like a lolly-pop" (or something) feels like light years back to me, ancient history. But no matter how dated it might look, it still makes a delightful time capsule of late Fifties New York today. I think it's this is one of the first films made aspiring filmmakers realize they could shoot an independent film, without Hollywood, improvised and without a real budget. Seymour Cassel, who acted and was involved in SHADOWS, claims it was Jules Dassin's THE NAKED CITY (1948) that was the first and inspired them all, but I think this was the one that really opened the eyes of aspiring independent American filmmakers.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10

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