Glengarry Glen Ross (film)
Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 American drama film adapted by David Mamet from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, and directed by James Foley. The film depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen and how desperate they become when the corporate office sends a trainer to "motivate" them. He tells them that, in a week's time, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. The story is set in Chicago; it was filmed in New York City.
|Glengarry Glen Ross|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Foley|
|Screenplay by||David Mamet|
|Based on||Glengarry Glen Ross|
by David Mamet
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Cinematography||Juan Ruiz Anchía|
|Edited by||Howard Smith|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$10.7 million (North America)|
Like the play, the film is notorious for its use of profanity, leading the cast to refer to the film jokingly as "Death of a Fuckin' Salesman." The title of the film comes from the names of two of the real estate developments being peddled by the salesmen characters: Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms.
The world premiere of the film was held at the 49th Venice Film Festival, where Jack Lemmon was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. Al Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film. Though the film performed modestly at the box office, grossing $10.7 million in North America on a $12.5 million budget, Glengarry Glen Ross was lauded by critics and is considered a classic film.
Act I Four real estate salesmen, Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), Dave Moss (Ed Harris), and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), work in the offices of Premiere Properties, Chicago. The salesmen act more as con artists, lying about their identities and circumstances, in selling parcels of land in Florida and Arizona to customers, many of whom are uninterested or unable to afford a real estate investment. They rely on leads, information of potential customers, provided to them by office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey). The leads are purchased by their unseen bosses Mitch and Murray.
A sales meeting is held by Blake (Alec Baldwin)—a salesman "from downtown". In a profanity-laden tirade, he chastises the salesmen for their lack of sales; questions their manhood. Blake reveals that, in addition to the month's sale contest (whose winner and first runner-up receive a new Cadillac and a set of steak knives respectively), the bottom two salesmen will be fired. He stresses the mantra "ABC-Always Be Closing" and reveals that a valuable set of leads, the "Glengarry leads", have arrived, but they will not be distributed to salesmen of their caliber. After Blake leaves, the salesmen split up for the rest of the evening.
Levene: Shelley "The Machine" Levene was once a brilliant salesman, but has since fallen into a rut implied to be lasting months, perhaps even years. Adding to Levene's plight is that fact his daughter is sick in the hospital with an unspecified illness. After the others leave, Levene attempts to secure one of the premiere leads from Williamson, who refuses on account of his recent sales record. Levene persists, first charming, then insulting, and finally bribing Williamson by offering him a part of his sales commission. Williamson agrees to 20 percent of the commission plus $50 per lead, but reneges on the deal when Levene is unable to pay upfront. Forced to leave with no good leads, Levene goes cold calling to a customer named Larry Spannel, but fails to close. Throughout the night, Levene is seen conversing on the phone with another lead, a couple named Bruce and Harriett Nyborg.
Moss and Aaronow: Moss and Aaronow go out together on an unsuccessful sale. Throughout their trip, an incensed Moss rants to a passive Aaronow about the state of affairs with the company, complaining about the business model where the top leads goes to the most successful salesmen and how Mitch and Murray take 90 percent of their sale. Upon returning to the Chinese restaurant across from the office, Moss proposes that someone strike back against Mitch and Murray by stealing the Glengarry leads and selling them to Jerry Graf, a colleague who has done well in his own business. Aaronow correctly deduces that Moss has indeed discussed an endeavor with Graf. Moss offers to let Aaronow in on the deal, which includes $2,500 and a job with Graf. The latter expresses interest, but balks when Moss tells him he must be the one to break into the office and steal the leads, and it must be done that night. Aaronow tries to remove himself from the topic, but Moss says he is already an accessory to the crime, simply because he listened.
Roma: Richard "Ricky" Roma is by far the top salesman in the office. Rather than attend Blake's meeting, Roma instead stays at the Chinese restaurant, where he meets and converses with a timid man named James Lingk. Roma wows Lingk with philiosphical monologues and puts him at ease, not once even mentioning real estate until the end of the scene. Convincing Lingk to be more outgoing with his life, Roma presents him literature about land in Florida.
Act II The next morning, it's revealed the office has been broken into. Leads and the salesmen's phones have been stolen. Police are on the scene and a detective is set to interview each of the salesmen. Roma arrives and pesters Williamson about the status of his latest sales contract, that of James Lingk's. Williamson says it has been filed at the bank, leading Roma to declare himself the winner of the Cadillac, since this sale puts him "over the top". Roma further insults Williamson by refusing to act on old leads. He then goes on to ease Aaronow, who is nervous about talking to the detective.
An overjoyed Levene arrives, announcing he has closed an $82,000 sale with the Nyborgs. While Roma is eager to hear Levene's story, a furious Moss, emerging from his interview with the detective, expresses only vitriol. Roma reminds Moss that he hasn't made a big sale in a month, causing Moss to furiously curse Roma out and storm out of the office, declaring he is "going to Wisconsin". Levene finishes his story to Roma, who congratulates him on his sale.
Energized with the close, Levene demands new leads and insults Williamson, who is left speechless. Roma, seeing Lingk arrive at the office, has Levene pose as his client and tries to usher him off to the airport to avoid a discussion. Lingk reveals that his wife told him to ask for his check back and that she has threatened to call the state's attorney. After a hysterical Aaronow emerges from his interview, Roma tries to put Lingk's mind at ease, eventually convincing him to get a drink and that his check has not been cashed yet. However, the ruse is ruined when Williamson (who erroneously believed that Lingk was worried about whether his check was stolen) claims that the check is already at the bank and has been cashed. A distressed Lingk leaves, causing Roma to launch into a profanity-laden tirade against him before going into his interview.
Levene piles onto Williamson, ending his own rant by telling him "if you're going to make something up, be sure that it helps". Williamson realizes that Levene knows that the Lingk contract was still on his desk, something only the one who robbed the office would know. Confronted by Williamson, Levene denies the accusation at first, but eventually reveals he sold the leads to Jerry Graf, working with Moss. When Williamson nonetheless threatens to go to the police, Levene tries once more to charm and bribe his way out of the situation. He offers Williamson his entire cut from the Graf deal, which is rejected. When he offers a bigger cut of his commission, citing his new sale, Williamson reveals that the Nyborgs are mentally ill and unable to afford such pricy real estate and that "they just like talking to salesmen". Levene makes one last plea by mentioning his daughter, but Williamson coldly rebuffs him.
Unaware of what's transpired, Roma emerges from his interrogation and praises Levene for his acting during the Lingk situation. He proposes that he and Levene enter business together. As Roma makes a call on a newly installed phone, Levene is called in by the detective. He tries to say something to Roma, who is entrenched in his call. Defeated, Levene walks into the office. While Roma goes off to the restaurant, Aaronow starts making his sales calls.
David Mamet's play was first performed in 1983 at the National Theatre, London. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. That same year, the play made its American debut in Chicago before moving to Broadway. Producer Jerry Tokofsky read the play on a trip to New York City in 1985 at the suggestion of director Irvin Kershner who wanted to make it into a film. Tokofsky saw the play on Broadway and contacted Mamet. Stanley R. Zupnik was a Washington, D.C. based producer of B movies who was looking for a more profitable project. Tokofsky had co-produced two previous Zupnik films. In 1986, Tokofsky told Zupnik about Mamet's play, and Zupnik saw it on Broadway but found the plot confusing.
Mamet wanted $500,000 for the film rights and another $500,000 to write the screenplay. Zupnik agreed to pay Mamet's $1 million asking price, figuring that they could cut a deal with a cable company to bankroll the production. Because of the uncompromising subject matter and abrasive language, no major studio wanted to finance it, even with film stars attached. Financing came from cable and video companies, a German television station, an Australian cinema chain, several banks and New Line Cinema over the course of four years.
Al Pacino originally wanted to do the play on Broadway, but at the time he was doing another Mamet production, American Buffalo, in London. He expressed interest in appearing in the film adaptation. In 1989, Tokofsky asked Jack Lemmon to act in the film. During this time, Kershner dropped out to make another film, as did Pacino. Alec Baldwin, who also attached, left the project over a contract disagreement. James Foley's agent sent Foley Mamet's screenplay in early 1991, but Foley was hesitant to direct because he "wanted great actors, people with movie charisma, to give it watchability, especially since the locations were so restricted". Foley took the screenplay to Pacino, with whom he had been trying to work on a film for years. Foley was hired to direct, only to leave the production as well.
By March 1991, Tokofsky contacted Baldwin and begged him to reconsider doing the film. Baldwin's character was specifically written for the actor, to include in the film version, and is not part of the original play. Tokofsky remembers, "Alec said: 'I've read 25 scripts and nothing is as good as this. OK. If you make it, I'll do it'." The two men arranged an informal reading with Lemmon in Los Angeles. Subsequently, the three men organized readings with several other actors, as Lemmon remembers, "Some of the best damn actors you're ever going to see came in and read and I'm talking about names". Tokofsky's lawyer, Jake Bloom, called a meeting at the Creative Artists Agency, who represented many of the actors involved, and asked for their help. CAA showed little interest, but two of their clients – Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey – soon joined the cast.
Because of the film's modest budget, many of the actors took significant pay cuts. For example, Pacino cut his per-movie price from $6 million to $1.5 million, Lemmon was paid $1 million, Baldwin received $250,000, and so on. This did not stop other actors, like Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, and Joe Mantegna, from expressing interest in the film. Mantegna had been in the original Broadway cast and won a Tony Award in 1985 for his portrayal of Roma.
Once the film's cast was assembled, they spent three weeks in rehearsals. With a budget set at $12.5 million, filming began in August 1991 at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York, and on location in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, over 39 days. Harris remembers: "There were five and six-page scenes we would shoot all at once. It was more like doing a play at times [when] you'd get the continuity going". Alan Arkin said of the script, "What made it [challenging] was the language and the rhythms, which are enormously difficult to absorb". During filming, members of the cast who were not required to be on the set certain days would show up anyway to watch the other actors' performances.
The film's director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía, relied on low lighting and shadows. A blues, greens, and reds color scheme was used for the first part of the film, while the second half had a monochromatic blue-grey color scheme.
During the production, Tokofsky and Zupnik had a falling out over money and credit for the film. Tokofsky sued to strip Zupnik of his producer's credit and share of the producer's fee. Zupnik claimed that he personally put up $2 million of the film's budget and countersued, claiming that Tokofsky was fired for embezzlement.
Glengarry Glen Ross had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where Jack Lemmon won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. In addition, it was originally slated to be shown at the Montreal Film Festival, but it was necessary to show it out of competition because it was entered into competition at the Venice Film Festival at the same time. Instead, it was given its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film opened in wide release on October 2, 1992 in 416 theaters, grossing $2.1 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make $10.7 million in North America, below its $12.5 million budget.
The film has a rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 8.5/10. The consensus reads, "This adaptation of David Mamet's play is every bit as compelling and witty as its source material, thanks in large part to a clever script and a bevy of powerhouse actors." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 80 out of 100, based on 14 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Owen Gleiberman gave the film an "A" rating in his review for Entertainment Weekly magazine, praising Lemmon's performance as "a revelation" and describing his character as "the weaselly soul of Glengarry Glen Ross–Willy Loman turned into a one-liner". In his review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote, "Mamet's dialogue has a kind of logic, a cadence, that allows people to arrive in triumph at the ends of sentences we could not possibly have imagined. There is great energy in it. You can see the joy with which these actors get their teeth into these great lines, after living through movies in which flat dialogue serves only to advance the story".
Newsweek magazine's Jack Kroll observed of Alec Baldwin's performance, "Baldwin is sleekly sinister in the role of Blake, a troubleshooter called in to shake up the salesmen. He shakes them up, all right, but this character (not in the original play) also shakes up the movie's toned balance with his sheer noise and scatological fury". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby praised, "the utterly demonic skill with which these foulmouthed characters carve one another up in futile attempts to stave off disaster. It's also because of the breathtaking wizardry with which Mr. Mamet and Mr. Foley have made a vivid, living film that preserves the claustrophobic nature of the original stage work".
In his review for Time, Richard Corliss wrote, "A peerless ensemble of actors fills Glengarry Glen Ross with audible glares and shudders. The play was zippy black comedy about predators in twilight; the film is a photo-essay, shot in morgue closeup, about the difficulty most people have convincing themselves that what they do matters". However, Desson Howe's review in The Washington Post criticized Foley's direction, writing that it "doesn't add much more than the street between. If his intention is to create a sense of claustrophobia, he also creates the (presumably) unwanted effect of a soundstage. There is no evidence of life outside the immediate world of the movie".
The film has had an enduring legacy for its memorable dialogue and performances, particularly that of Alec Baldwin, whose character was created for the film adaptation. In 2012, on the 20th anniversary of its release, David Wagner of The Atlantic dubbed it a cult classic and Tim Grierson of Deadspin cited it as one of the "quintessential modern movies about masculinity." In 2014, English critic Philip French described the ensemble of Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Alec Baldwin as "one of the best American casts ever assembled."
Jack Lemmon was voted Best Actor by the National Board of Review. Al Pacino was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor but did not win. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role but lost to Gene Hackman for Unforgiven; the same year he was nominated for and won the Best Actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman. Empire magazine voted the film the 470th greatest film in their "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.
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