Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Cassavetes|
|Produced by||Al Ruban|
|Written by||John Cassavetes|
|Music by||Bo Harwood|
|Edited by||Tom Cornwell|
|Distributed by||Faces Distribution|
Myrtle Gordon is a famous, middle-aged actress performing out-of-town previews of a new play called The Second Woman before its Broadway run. While leaving the theatre after a performance, Myrtle signs autographs and encounters an obsessive teenaged fan, Nancy, who runs after Myrtle into the street and is struck by a car. Myrtle is unsettled by the incident, and even goes to the girl's shiva, though her family greets her coolly.
Myrtle struggles to connect with the character she is playing in The Second Woman, finding her to have no motivation beyond her age. Over the course of numerous performances, Myrtle departs from the play's script in myriad ways, including changing her lines, throwing props around the set, breaking the fourth wall, and collapsing on stage. This frustrates others involved with the play. The writer, Sarah Goode, attempts to force Myrtle into facing her age. Myrtle admits to her that she sees visions of Nancy—the teenager killed in the car accident—which Myrtle considers a projection of her youth.
Myrtle's state of mind deteriorates. She imagines Nancy attacking her, and later she throws herself against the walls of Sarah's hotel room, breaking her sunglasses and slashing her face. After storming out of a rehearsal, Myrtle visits Sarah's spiritualist and has another violent encounter with her vision of Nancy, this time fighting back and “killing” Nancy's ghost. Myrtle attempts to seduce Maurice Aarons—her leading man and a former lover—but he refuses.
Myrtle doesn't show up on time for her call on opening night. When she finally arrives, Myrtle is so drunk that she can barely stand. With the audience growing restless, director Manny Victor demands the show go on. Myrtle struggles through the show's opening scenes, collapsing before her entrance and again on stage. As the show continues, Myrtle finds something of a rhythm. By the end, she and Maurice go off script and improvise the play's final act, to the producers’ chagrin and the audience's rapturous applause.
- Gena Rowlands as Myrtle Gordon
- Ben Gazzara as Manny Victor
- Joan Blondell as Sarah Goode
- Paul Stewart as David Samuels
- Zohra Lampert as Dorothy Victor
- John Cassavetes as Maurice Aarons
- John Tuell as Gus Simmons
- Laura Johnson as Nancy Stein
- Lady Rowlands as Melva Drake
In common with earlier films, Cassavetes struggled to get Opening Night distributed in the United States. After a number of preview screenings, it opened on December 25, 1977, at the Fox Wilshire Theater, Los Angeles where it played to almost empty houses, and closed in February having never been commercially shown elsewhere. Screenings in New York City that March were similarly ignored. The film was only picked up by an American distributor in 1991, two years after Cassavetes' death.
Opening Night was critically panned in the US on its release. The review in Variety that appeared after a press screening concluded, "One must question whether more than a handful of moviegoers are interested in the effort, whether audiences have not already seen enough of Cassavetes' characters ... He's made these films before and not many seemed interested in them." When it opened in New York, the film was not reviewed at all in most newspapers and magazines.
The film was better received in Europe, and its reputation has improved since its initial release. It currently holds a 96% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 26 reviews; the consensus states: "Opening Night is as dense and difficult as one would expect from John Cassavetes, but even the director's detractors will be unable to deny the power of Gena Rowlands' performance."
Film critic Dan Schneider wrote, of the film's narrative structure:
Many critics have taken this film to be a portrait of an alcoholic ... But this is wrong, for alcohol isn't her problem - nor is her chain smoking. They are merely diversions from whatever thing is really compelling her to her own destruction, and much to Cassavetes' credit, as a storyteller, he never lets us find out exactly what's wrong with Myrtle, and despite her coming through in the end, there's no reason to expect that she has really resolved anything of consequence. This sort of end without resolution links Cassavetes directly with the more daring European directors of the recent past, who were comfortable in not revealing everything to an audience, and forcing their viewers to cogitate, even if it hurts.
In pop culture
The film has been referenced by several musicians. Back to the Beat, an EP from the band, Motion City Soundtrack, features a song titled "Opening Night", in reference to the film. The Hold Steady's 2008 album Stay Positive makes various allusions to the film; the closing song "Slapped Actress" is the most explicit. "Shut Up," the first track on Savages' 2013 album Silence Yourself opens with dialogue between Rowlands and Blondell sampled from the film.
Jessica Pratt cited the film as an influence on her album Quiet Signs and titled the instrumental first track "Opening Night." Describing her reaction to the film after viewing it at a screening, she said, “Sometimes when you see a film, especially an emotional, anguishing film like that, it can just simmer in your subconscious for a while. It definitely did that for me.” 
- "OPENING NIGHT (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. May 9, 1978. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
- Carney, Ray (August 15, 2001), Cassavetes on Cassavetes, London: Faber and Faber (published 2001), pp. 428–434, ISBN 0-571-20157-1
- "Berlinale 1978: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "Festival de Cannes: Opening Night". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved August 17, 2009.
- "Opening Night". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
- Schneider, Dan (January 20, 2007). "DVD Review of Opening Night". Cosmoetica. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
- Sodomsky, Sam (December 12, 2018). "Jessica Pratt Lets the World In". Rolling Stone.
- Wilson, Emma (January 15, 2003). Cinema's Missing Children. New York City: Wallflower Press. p. 77. ISBN 1903364507.
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