An alcoholic drifter spends Halloween in his home town of Albany, NY 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 ...


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 <>

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R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

12 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?


Frank Whaley plays Jack Nicholson's character as a young man. In Hoffa (1992), Whaley plays the hit man who murders Nicholson's character, teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. 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 »


[first lines]
Pee Wee: [gathered around a fire barrel] Oh God, it's too damn cold out here. Hey, Francis.
Francis Phelan: Hey, Pee Wee.
Pee Wee: Have you come back?
Francis Phelan: Yeah. You, uh, seen Helen around?
Pee Wee: No. I haven't seen her in a couple days.
Francis Phelan: Well, I'll catch up with her.
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He's Me Pal
Performed by Meryl Streep
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User Reviews

They're my pals.
21 June 2002 | by See all my reviews

Never the timing for a movie had been so disastrous.Released in those "glorious " eighties when the success stories and the triumphalist heroes were the golden rule,"Ironweed" stood no chance at all.Two tramps did not fit well in the movie landscape of those "feel good" times.And two tramps played by two megastars ,it was unforgivable!

The cast is stellar,but it's Meryl Streep whom I will remember FOREVER.When she sings her little tune "he's me pal" she's so heart-wrenching that she will move you to tears."At least ,I didn't betray anybody" she said.Although it was a colossal flop,Streep would only approach such an emotion afterwards.(notably in "the bridges of Madison County")Nicholson was equally courageous to play such a demeaning part,and he gets strong support from Carroll Baker who proves here she can age gracefully and from Tom Waits ,ideally cast as a barfly.

"Ironweed" is very hard to see nowadays.One of these days ,it will be given the place it deserves.

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