47 user 27 critic

Ironweed (1987)

R | | Drama | 12 February 1988 (USA)
An alcoholic drifter spends Halloween in his home town of Albany, New York 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 ...
Harold Allen
Rowdy Dick
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 <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Release Date:

12 February 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El amor es un eterno vagabundo  »


Box Office


$27,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$36,973, 20 December 1987, Limited Release

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson were Oscar nominated, but failed to win. 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.
See more »


Featured in The 60th Annual Academy Awards (1988) See more »


He's Me Pal
Performed by Meryl Streep
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User Reviews

Helen Archer, a croquis for greater roles to come, Kundry, perhaps
16 February 2014 | by See all my reviews

Watching Streep's creation of Helen Archer is a complete joy, from her poignant silences to her gemuetlich cabaret turn, humorous, tragic, moving but never maudlin. The character puts me in mind of that other sublime derelict from opera, Kundry, for whom it would seem Meryl has done workshops throughout her career. In addition to her Helen Archer, We have her femme fatale, Jill, in Manhattan, Madeline Ashton, a woman cursed with a Kundry-like longevity, like that of Emilia Marti from The Makropoulos Case, albeit actively sought and dearly paid for. Don't get me wrong, I loved the performance of Katarina Dalayman in the Met's most recent production of Parsifal, but, during my second viewing, not in the opera house, but in an HD theater, it became clear that one really needs an actress as mindful as Streep to make this spectacular acting opportunity realized to full satisfaction. She should take off for a year to work on it. And her voice. Yes, she will be required to sing high B and low B on the same word, Lachte. That vocal firework explodes as Kundry describes the ancient sin that occasioned her self-imposed curse. It has kept her alive over a thousand years in many guises: Herodias, Gundryggia and many personalities the audience never hears about. Now in the employ of Klingsor, she is required to tempt and bring down Parsifal, yet another vulnerable protector of the Grail. Streep would have amazing growth potential in that second act. For here she needs to communicate infinite wisdom, dumbness, innocence, guilt, power and impotence simultaneously. In the third act she is without a single line or note to perform, and yet a central character transformed as much as Parsifal himself. I'm sure she could meet the challenge of performing in silence with impressive creativity. As in all great scripts, this libretto is open ended in a way that would afford a freedom of interpretation any actor would sign on for. She could pull it off vocally, too. Back in 1977, before Broadway singers were miked, she did Lillian Holiday in Happy End and was a knockout vocally. In fact, one was surprised later when she chose to do non-musical roles. It was an operatic voice. Yes, 37 years have passed. But a Parsifal movie would not require the vocal heft required to fill the 4,000 seat Met opera. Moreover, computers do amazing things these days to add and subtract age. Yes, of course, it's four and a half hours long and Wagner, so it wouldn't exactly pay for itself, but would probably end up being definitive with the involvement of such an artist.

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