play-written by David Mamet (later made into a film of the same name)

Like a great deal of Mamet's work, this is about how men talk to one another and how the communications are always multifaceted, and usually false. Mamet wants to use "the sales pitch"-the closing of the deal as his central point. But as usual, his characters spin away from this point like asteroids-in all directions. To say that this is a movie about salesman selling timeshares is like saying Psycho is about motel management.

In the film version of this play Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino have large parts, although they are both on the screen for brief periods of time (less than 30 minutes each). Their dialogue is so sharp-so acidic, that is hangs with you. Spacey- at his most bitter, his most uninterested . Pacino, smooth as glass, making the sale, getting the job done. The ubersaleman. Selling without offering. You are mesmerized as he convinces a man who doesn't want something that he can't live without it. This his whole existence would lack meaning without this chance, this thing, this potential for greatness.

The play and the film, are wicked, meanspirited and breathtaking. These are not people you learn to like. But they are certainly real.

You know David Mamet. You maybe think you don't: unless you get off on theatre and dialogue and monologues and words like a machine gun at 200 rounds per second, unless you squint when the credits flash onto the screen for a moment at the end of a movie trailer, hoping to catch the words "written by" in the fine print, unless by some mad coincidence you fit into this particular fringe, you probably don't even know who the bastard is ("Mamet, huh, wasn't that a Muppet?").

But you do. I'm serious. You seen The Untouchables? You know, Sean Connery saying "Just like a wop to bring a knife to a gun fight." Robert De Niro saying "I want this guy dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground! I want to go there in the middle of the night and piss on his ashes!" Yeah, he wrote that shit. And Hoffa and Homicide and American Buffalo and About Last Night. And maybe you've never seen any of these, or the dozens of others. You still know the motherfucker. I don't care. If you've ever heard of a guy named Quentin Tarantino, you've had a solid dose of Mamet, second hand. His touch runs through all the mad, dirty, brilliant dialogue you hear today. Samuel L. Jackson saying "Oh, did I break your concentration?" in Pulp Fiction echoes Alec Baldwin's line "Oh, have I got your attention now?" (see below) in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The Play

But that line was added when Mamet adapted the play for the screen, and right now I'm just talking about the play. In 1984, Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for this two-act sledgehammer. Set in a Chinese joint for the first act and a real estate office for the second, Glengarry is about what happens to the type of guys who spend their time trying to, ahem, sell you a plot of land in Florida, when they lose their edge. When they start to look a little more like, say, Jack Lemmon, a little less like Al Pacino (or Joe Mantegna). It may just be business, but the more you read it, the more you see it, the more the word "cut-throat" seems appropriate.

Here's a brief plot summary: Four salesmen are trying to keep their jobs, unable to sell plots of land to the "leads," because either they're poor salesmen, or the leads are shit. There are good leads, "Glengarry" leads, locked in the supervisor's office, but these leads are for "closers," for guys who make sales. (See also: Catch-22.) Then, in the night, the office is burglarized and the leads stolen. Not that plot summaries mean anything, but there it is.

Comparisons between Glengarry and Miller's Death of a Salesman are unavoidable. You write a play about salesmen today, in English, you're going to be compared to Miller. I, for one, think Miller's play was one of the most important things written in America in the 20th Century. But it doesn't bury the blade as deep as Glengarry. Salesman is about realizing you can't bear being put to pasture. Glengarry is about the only friends you have saying "fuck the pasture," and feeding you a bullet, for the sake of a few bucks.

But this is a man's world after all.

And if there's anything David Mamet understands, it's men.

(See below for a discussion of the film.)

Glengarry Glen Ross © 1982, 1983 by David Mamet

ISBN: 0-394-53857-9
ISBN: 0-8021-3091-7 (paperback)

Glengarry Glen Ross premiered at The Cottlesloe Theatre in London, England on September 21, 1983. It was directed by Bill Bryden, with the following cast:

     Shelly Levene1 .................... Derek Newark
     John Williamson .................. Karl Johnson
     Dave Moss ........................ Trevor Ray
     George Aronow2 .................... James Grant
     Richard Roma ..................... Jack Shepherd
     James Lingk ...................... Tony Haygarth
     Baylen ........................... John Tams

The U.S. premier of this play took place at The Goodman Theatre of the Arts Institute of Chicago on February 6, 1984. It was directed by Gregory Mosher and featured the following cast:

     Shelly Levene .................... Robert Prosky
     John Williamson .................. J. T. Walsh
     Dave Moss ........................ James Tolkan
     George Aronow .................... Mike Nussbaum
     Richard Roma ..................... Joe Mantegna
     James Lingk ...................... William M. Petersen
     Baylen ........................... Jack Wallace

The Film

And cut ahead about a decade. Mamet has adapted a screenplay, and a couple little-known actors like Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon and a director named James Foley seem fairly interested in making a picture.3 Well, here's a cast list:4

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Drama

Crew:
     Director ......................... James Foley
     Writer ........................... David Mamet
Cast:
     Shelley "The Machine" Levene ..... Jack Lemmon
     Ricky Roma ....................... Al Pacino
     Dave Moss ........................ Ed Harris
     George Aaronow ................... Alan Arkin
     John Williamson .................. Kevin Spacey
     Blake ............................ Alec Baldwin
     James Lingk ...................... Jonathan Pryce
     Mr. Spannel ...................... Bruce Altman
     Detective ........................ Jude Ciccolella
     Policeman ........................ Paul Butler

Mamet's screenplay is, at least in the scenes that exist in both, nearly identical to the play. According to Ed Harris, "All of us felt like we really wanted to do it word-for-word. It’s not the kind of writing you want to paraphrase." Mamet did, however, add two very notable scenes, and one notable character (Blake, played by Alec Baldwin). The sales meeting, reproduced in part below, is in my opinion one of the best scenes of dialogue filmed, and the best scene Baldwin has ever done.

WILLIAMSON

It is 7:30--

AARONOW

(Nodding at BLAKE.) So who is that?

WILLIAMSON

--and where's Mr. Roma.

MOSS

Well I'm not a leash, so I don't know, do I?

BLAKE

Lemme have your attention for a moment. Cause you're talking about what, you're talking about, bitching about that sale you shot, some son-of-a-bitch don't want to buy land, somebody don't want what you're selling, some broad you're trying to screw, so forth. Let's talk about something important. (To WILLIAMSON) Are they all here?

WILLIAMSON

All but one.

BLAKE

Well I'm going anyway. Let's talk about something important. (To LEVENE.) Put that coffee down. Coffee's for closers only.

LEVENE

(Laughs.)

BLAKE

You think I'm fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I'm here from downtown. I'm here from Mitch and Murray. And I'm here on a mission of mercy. Your name's Levene?

LEVENE

Yeah.

BLAKE

You call yourself a salesman, you son-of-a-bitch?

MOSS

I don't gotta listen to this shit.

BLAKE

You certainly don't, pal. Cause the good news is, you're fired. The bad news is you've got, all you've got, just one week to regain your job starting with tonight, starting with tonight's sit. (Pause.) Oh, have I got your attention now? Good.

Cause we're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.

You get the picture? You laughing now? You've got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money, get their names to sell them. You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close shit, you are shit, hit the bricks pal and beat it cause you are going out.

LEVENE

The leads are weak.

BLAKE

The leads are weak? The fuckin leads are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years--

MOSS

What's your name?

BLAKE

Fuck you, that's my name.

MOSS

(Laughs.)

BLAKE

You know why, Mister? Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That's my name. (Pause. Pointing at LEVENE.) And your name is you're wanting, and you can't play in the man's game, you can't close them? Then go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me you fucking faggots?

. . .

You see this watch? You see this watch?

MOSS

Yeah.

BLAKE

That watch cost more than your car. I made $970,000 last year, how much you make? You see pal, that's who I am, and you're nothing. Nice guy? I don't give a shit. Good father? Fuck you, go home and play with your kids. You want to work here, close.

Hard-edged shit.

For the other added scene, I think I'll defer to Ebert, since he hit it dead on:

Lemmon has a scene in this movie that represents the best work he has ever done. He makes a house call on a man who does not want to buy real estate. The man knows it, we know it, Lemmon knows it - but Lemmon keeps trying, not registering the man's growing impatience to have him out of his house. There is a fine line in this scene between deception and breakdown, between Lemmon's false jolity and the possibility that he may collapse right on the man's rug, surrendering all hope.5

This is the film where Lemmon shows his will snap like a matchstick, where Ed Harris plays the badgering asshole that's just under the skin of nearly every character he's ever played, where Alan Arkin is a peon who's been henpecked by his friends, where Pacino's a powerful, hypnotic salesman, the over-the-top ego he always seems to play (though this time it rings true), and Kevin Spacey is the sniveling, smart, hated little man that has become his trademark. This is casting that nobody gets, except maybe Francis Ford Coppola. That's the kind of respect this project, this screenplay, had amongst actors. And that's the kind of respect this film deserves.


Notes:
1 IMDb lists the spelling of this character as "Shelley Levine," while my copy of the play lists it as "Shelly Levine." I'd consider the IMDb spelling more likely correct, as the play also misspells "Aaronow" as "Aronow" twice on the same page.
2 See 1.
3 http://www.spacey.com/glengarr.htm
4 http://us.imdb.com/Title?0104348
5 http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1992/10/780978.html

See Also:
http://www.uggr.com - The Unofficial Glengarry Glen Ross Site (contains a complete transcription of the film).
http://blake.prohosting.com/awsm/script/glengarry.html - The text of the play.

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