Ironweed (1987)

R  |   |  Drama  |  February 1988 (USA)
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Reviews: 42 user | 24 critic

A schizophrenic drifter spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.



(novel), (screenplay)
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jake Dengel ...
Laura Esterman ...
Hy Anzell ...


Albany, New York, Halloween, 1938. Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are bums, back in their birth city. She was a singer on the radio, he a major league pitcher. Death surrounds them: she's sick, a pal has cancer, he digs graves at the cemetery and visits the grave of his infant son whom he dropped; visions of his past haunt him, including ghosts of two men he killed. That night, out drinking, Helen tries to sing at a bar. Next day, Fran visits his wife and children and meets a grandson. He could stay, but decides it's not for him. Helen gets their things out of storage and finds a hotel. Amidst their mistakes and dereliction, the film explores their code of fairness and loyalty. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

February 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tallo de hierro  »

Box Office


$27,000,000 (estimated)


$7,393,346 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to the biography "Nicholson" (2013) by Marc Eliot and the 29th October 2013 "Daily Mirror" article by Mark Jefferies entitled "Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep 'had fling' while filming Ironweed (1987), biographer claims", stars Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson allegedly had personal relationship during the making of this movie. The book claims the two stars met personally in his trailer on set. It states: "Often during shooting, his Winnebago seemed to be balanced on four overworked Slinkys . . . As soon as it [Ironweed (1987)] began, rumours exploded like wild mushrooms that something was going on between Jack [Nicholson] and his co-star, I'll-never-work-with-him-again Meryl Streep . . . There had been talk that the two had grown unusually close, but both denied it. Jack was in a bit of a bind, as he was actively, if secretly, still seeing [actress Veronica] Cartwright [Veronica Cartwright] . . . However, once filming began on Ironweed (1987), everyone on set and those who heard about it, were talking not about the film's script, or direction, or scenic design, but about Jack and Meryl". See more »


When Francis returns to his wife's house, the kitchen floor has 12-inch vinyl composite tiles (VCT tiles). While VCT did exist in the 1930s, they were only in the 9 inch size. 12 inch VCTs were not made until the 1970s. See more »


Rudy: Doctor says I got cancer. It's the first thing I ever got.
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Referenced in Parks and Recreation: New Slogan (2014) See more »


He's Me Pal
Performed by Meryl Streep
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User Reviews

Not for the faint of heart
18 May 2002 | by (Flagstaff, AZ) – See all my reviews

Have you ever wondered what's it's like to be homeless? To most of us, it's as foreign an existence as the medieval world of Hugh Capet. And yet, it's a way of life that's within reach of all of us. And I'm not talking about its physical proximity, about the unfortunates we pass on the streets with their bed rolls on their backs: on the contrary, I'm referring to its spiritual, psychological proximity, to all the rest of us, who, given the right circumstances, could give up on our cheery Western materialist society and wander off into the shadows.

Ironweed takes its viewers into that shadowy world of the rail yards, cardboard shantytowns, underpasses, and abandoned automobiles, and shows us incisive glimpses of how a person arrives there. Featuring what I think are the very best performances by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, Ironweed gets us deep into the sooty, grimy, bilious skin of the two `hobos.' Like Schindler's List, Ironweed is dark poetry. When the movie is over, you're haunted for days by the imagery.

Set in Albany during the Great Depression, Ironweed delivers not an ounce of moralizing. It's like a clinical exposition of the homeless person's entire life, both from without, and within. On the outside, of course, there's the Depression: a society doing the best it can to get by. From the `hobo's' point of view, one feels the implicit violence of a culture taught to view others as economic instruments of their own survival. The homeless, of course, are on the bottom end of the food chain. On the inside, Ironweed takes us into the intense pain of dashed hopes and expectations. From within and without, the homeless are caught in a whirling vortex that only grinds them down deeper and deeper into despair, the type that Kierkegaard's describes in `Sickness unto Death.' It's where intense poverty is not just physical, but spiritual.

This is a terrific movie; but, it's not for the faint of heart.

39 of 51 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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