Salesman Willy Loman is in a crisis. He's about to lose his job, he can't pay his bills, and his sons Biff and Happy don't respect him and can't seem to live up to their potential. He wonders what went wrong and how he can make things up to his family. Written by
In his autobiography "Timebends", Arthur Miller speculates that his unconscious mind picked the name "Loman" for Willy Loman, the protagonist of "Death of a Salesman", based on his conscious experience of being thrilled by Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933), which featured a character named "Commisioner Lohmann". See more »
When Willy comes out of his flashback in the bathroom of Frank's Chop House, the close up shot shows a drink on the toilet seat. When the shot shifts behind the entering waiter, the drink is gone. See more »
[to Willy's grave]
Willy, dear, I can't cry. Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can't understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there'll be nobody home.
[a sob rises in her throat]
We're free and clear.
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filled with enough strengths to mostly overpower any complaints
Volker Schlondorff's adaptation of Arthur Miller's bed-rock of an American tragedy, Death of a Salesman, is one of the best made-for-TV movies of the 80's (odd how it never got a theatrical release though). It gives the star power of Dustin Hoffman in the iconic role of Willy Loman, and for a great theater actor-turned-screen star (though mostly low-key through his career), John Malkovich, and some fine character acting as well. If you've read the play, you might envision something else entirely, and if you've seen it on stage it might bring more disappointment. It is the sort of play you end up going through whether you want to or not in English class(es), particularly in college. It is an important film to see/play to read when you're around this age bracket, as the struggles of Willy and Biff collide alongside each other, and some kind of catharsis needs to come for both- one who's life has almost gone up in smoke, and one who needs to figure it out.
It's not worth talking about much of the actual plot or story of the film/play, although it is of note that one of the very best (or at least most effective) scenes for me comes when Willy visits Howard at the office. This exchange, and the drama that unfolds, is a truly heart-breaking little moment, among some others in the film, where you see a collision of "old-school" salesmanship and the always now recycling form of BS that goes with the salesman/business world. Really, what's worth talking about is the acting, and certain things with the style, for if you are wanting to check out the film before (or after) seeing the play, it's worth it to know what you'll be in for. In short, Hoffman is quite powerful and true in the film, though in ways that aren't really expectable.
An image from reading the play of Willy (that he might be bigger than life, though perhaps little in the mind, and out of shape) might go against a low-energy actor like Hoffman. But somehow, it seems to work, because there's heart and fire in the performance. Same goes for Malkovich, though on a different level. Their scenes together, or on their own, are like watching pro boxers have a go at each other, old timer versus a new champ; there is one other scene, when Biff catches Willy in the hotel room with his 'lady friend' that is likely one of the best scenes either actor has ever done (even if it's questionable if overall the performances are among their best).
As far as stylistics go, Schlondorff usually does the right thing: let these actors have their way around, and just try to film it without too much getting in the way. He does this, and at the same time is clever with certain camera sweeps and timing in the narrative (Miller's play was one of the first to jump around, like a novel or even a some films). The music by Alex North is one of my least favorite aspects to th film, as it chimes in some emotional cues that aren't right at all (though when it gets to the jazzy 40's style music then it's not bad). This version of Death of a Salesman is definitely recommended by me, but it may not be the absolute definitive version for some.
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