A salesman with a sudden passion for reform has an idea to sell to his barfly buddies: throw away your pipe dreams. The drunkards, living in a flophouse above a saloon, resent the idea.A salesman with a sudden passion for reform has an idea to sell to his barfly buddies: throw away your pipe dreams. The drunkards, living in a flophouse above a saloon, resent the idea.A salesman with a sudden passion for reform has an idea to sell to his barfly buddies: throw away your pipe dreams. The drunkards, living in a flophouse above a saloon, resent the idea.
Then again, how could he not with the source material? It's about some of the richest theater ever produced, least in the 20th century, and is considered by many to be O'Neill's epic masterpiece. It's a tale of a community, a quasi-family of bums and stragglers who're stuck more or less in a dive down in a seedy section of New York city in the early part of the century, awaiting the return of Hickey (Lee Marvin), a big force of a man who works in advertising. This time things are a little different, however, and a new revelation leads the men (and a couple of the women) to wonder if he's flipped his lid. Around this premise of a dark secret or a certain feeling of "death" that Hickey has brought with him, O'Neill creates an ensemble that's unforgettable in its mix of light and dark, principled and sleazy, afraid and just downright kooky. There's a whole mix; there's Larry the ex-anarchist who's slowly dying inside (Robert Ryan); there's the depressed-cum-demanding kid (Jeff Bridges); Harry (March); the bartender/pimp; a black gambler; the "Limey"; the "Tarts"; and a crazy, rambling European screaming about socialism from time to time.
And despite what some may have said comparing it to the 1960's made-for-TV version directed by Lumet (which I would love to see but is at the moment unavailable), I'd be hard-pressed to see a cast better than this. Just a reminder: Lee Marvin can act, amazingly, and here he puts his chops to such a test that he rolls on to his climactic, half hour quasi-confession like it's the performance of his life. Ditto for Ryan and March, and for them it was more-so (Ryan knew he was dying, adding a poignancy to what was probably his best, most subtle work, and March is captivating as the stubborn old drunk owner). And Bridges, in a role which he said made him want to continue seriously being an actor, is hard to take one's eyes away from, even as his character wavers from being sympathetic to unlikeable in a single scene. And the bulk of the supporting cast are all wonderfully played and transposed, injecting life into a play that requires it to keep it going full throttle.
It's not an easy thing to endure; it's four hours long, and for the first hour here and there one has to go through some minor early morning drunkenness from the characters, which isn't the least effective portion of the play as well as the film. From there on out, if one is tuned into O'Neill's precisely harrowing story of the bums and drunkards and outcasts and all very flawed human beings, it will work wonders even in its sparsest moments. The ending, I might add, is about as perfectly bittersweet as I've seen this side of Woody Allen's Manhattan. Frankenheimer's work is a nearly forgotten gem.
- Jul 5, 2008