Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Willy Loman (Fredric March) is a middle-aged salesman whose career has stalled; he's too tired to stay on the road but the company won’t give him a desk job. His grown son Biff (Kevin McCarthy) showed great promise in his youth, but something happened in the past that shattered him. His younger son Happy (Cameron Mitchell) holds a job but has never been able to break away from the long shadow of Biff, who, in Willy's eyes, is still the golden boy of the past. The boys worry that Willy, who has taken to talking loudly to himself, is losing touch with reality. And his long-suffering wife Linda (Mildred Dunnock) becomes upset when she finds evidence that Willy may be planning to kill himself.

Everyone has probably read this classic American play by Arthur Miller, and fans of the theater have seen either a live production (it still gets revived on Broadway every few years) or the acclaimed TV-movie version from the 80s with Dustin Hoffman. This film is difficult to find, never having been released legally on home video; apparently Arthur Miller wasn’t happy with it because it follows the play too closely, essentially being a filming of the play on sets rather than a stage. Perhaps Miller wanted the movie opened up, and that might work, but as a re-creation of the play, this version is as good, if not better, than the Hoffman version. Hoffman, not yet 50 at the time, played Willy as an old, worn-out man who looks at least 60—it's a good performance but from the first moment, he seems at death's door already so his path of decline is very short. March, who was in his early 50s, plays the role as a man of his own age—he's beaten down but not out at the opening, so his somewhat slower decline is all the more heart-rending. McCarthy (pictured to the right of Mitchell and March) is excellent as Biff, and he and March work together well to establish a surface connection that is short-circuited just under the skin (if I may mix my metaphors). Their final confrontation is especially good. Dunnock is also fine, slightly understated, pulling off the "Attention must be paid" speech to great effect. I hope someday the Miller estate allows this fine film to get a bigger audience. Until then, it's on YouTube.

No comments: