46 user 26 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>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

12 February 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tallo de hierro  »


Box Office


$27,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$36,973, 20 December 1987, Limited Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The novel is included in the "Western Canon of Harold Bloom". Bloom is an American critic, teacher, and literary scholar, who is well-known for his studies on William Shakespeare and the nineteenth century romantic poets. See more »


When Francis rides with the rag man, one of the telephone poles has a 1970s era transformer. 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 »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Time Chasers (1997) See more »


He's Me Pal
Performed by Meryl Streep
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User Reviews

Beautiful lovely haunting movie
5 February 2007 | by See all my reviews

This movie is taken from the concluding book in the William Kennedy trilogy about depression era Albany. It is also anywhere USA. It is also anywhere globally. The themes are primarily loss, accommodation to loss, and spiritual decline. Underneath, deeply buried within is the small flickering hope that somehow we can continue, and that love will somehow still survive against the odds. I love this movie. It is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I am writing this short comment simply because I read others who lambasted it. They weren't watching the movie. They weren't seeing one of the best acted pieces of cinema extant. I don't know what they were watching.

Nicholson's role of a gritty alcoholic floating from skidrow flop to skidrow flop is as good a performance as I have seen. Frances Phelan is hounded by guilt and beset by failure yet never completely gives up. Nicholson's natural self lends itself well to this. What struck me was his ability to convey the deep sadness of Phelan --his visitation to his son's grave is to my mind the best single scene he's ever done. I did not believe that he could take it to that place with that intensity. I doubted he had that depth of character rendition within him, especially since the quintessential Nicholson has always been the roguish, slightly sarcastic and grinning bad boy thumbing his nose at authority like his bit in Five Easy Pieces. I was pleased to find I had misjudged him. There is a power to that particular scene that itself haunts the movie.

Not much can be said about Streep's performance. It is simply beyond description. Extraordinary acting. Her hallucinatory song in the bar where her dreams and hopes are seen as faded illusions is her character's pivotal moment and encapsulates the failed dreams of and hopes of every character in the movie at the same time. It all comes together in this hypnotic fusion of drugged distortion superimposed on the ugly reality of the apathy and rejection of the barflys. Powerful stuff. Streep has done any number of movies that rank among the finest female performances including what some consider her best, Sophie's Choice, and this role is a much smaller part--indeed, the character Helen is mentioned more than seen in the movie-- but she breathes life into the character by amplifying every nuance. The least motion is carefully studied and precisely acted. I think it is Streep's amazing attention to Helen's drunkenly careless mannerisms that ennoble the role. Helen is a sot whose life has been defined by her downward slide, yet she might've been someone of dignity and accomplishment. She holds fast to that dignity even as the reality in which she moves denies it. Phelan may embody a life filled with failure; Helen embodies failure itself.

The supporting cast and the ambiance of the settings are completely appropriate. Casting is excellent. Hy Anzell's Rosskam the ragpicker is marvelous. Carol Baker's long-suffering and still-loving wife, Annie, is perfect. Is the movie perfect?---no, of course not. It is an adaptation of a novel, looks and feels as if it were actually lifted from a play, and may well have included more of the novel in someone else's interpretation. But the movie they created has an unmistakable power about it. I love it. To echo everyone else who loves it: WHY NOT DVD? What is holding this up? Years from now it could be seen as a a marketing mistake, at least an artistic failure to not have released a DVD with the comments from those involved in the making.

Truly a great movie.

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