The 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross is based on the 1982 play written by David Mamet. The play shows parts of two days of four desperate Chicago real estate agents who will engage in any unscrupulous or illegal acts to sell junk real estate interests to ignorant buyers. Apparently the play is in part built on Mamet’s own experience when he was employed in a Chicago real estate office in the late 1960’s. The title of both the film and the play comes from the names of two of the real estate ventures being hawked by the salesmen, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms. The film, like the play, is infamous for its use of profanity and, according to actor Ed Harris, led to the cast renaming the movie “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman.”
In the film the salesmen become shell shocked when corporate sends a “motivator” (Alec Baldwin) to announce that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. The top two salesmen will keep their jobs: first place gets a Cadillac and second place gets a set of steak knives. Though Baldwin would have “fired their asses because a loser is a loser.” Baldwin’s “motivating speech” is, in my opinion, one of the greatest scenes in film history and almost won Baldwin an Oscar.
The movie has a star studded cast: Jack Lemmon as Shelley “The Machine” Levene; Al Pacino as Ricky Roma, the most successful salesman in the office; Ed Harris as Dave Moss, a loser loudmouth salesman; Kevin Spacey as John Williamson, a milquetoast insignificant, mealy-mouthed office manager; Alan Arkin as George Aaronow: playing the aging salesman with no self-confidence; and of course Alec Baldwin as Blake the corporate “motivator.” The film had a thin budget of 12 million dollars but still managed to lose money—grossing only 10 million.
Having read several David Mamet plays, I am of the opinion that once you’ve seen/read one of his plays/films you have seen/read them all. Many of you high falutin’ literati types who drool over every Mamet play will obviously disagree with me but I stand by my statement: once you’ve seen one Mamet play you’ve seen them all. Every Mamet play is based on the same plotline: a greedy average guy (or gal in the case of Oleanna) shows his or her utter lack of ethics. These characters aren’t the larger than life kind of evil that we get from Darth Vader – in fact, they aren’t even truly evil – they are simply selfish jerks who would step over their own mothers to get ahead. How many times do you need to see that? Maybe you literary droolers, who love nothing more than a chance to get depressed while snarfing popcorn, enjoy watching humans crawl through their own filth, but personally I’d rather see something at least different. And for once I think American audiences agreed. A holier-than-thou type will watch a movie like Glengarry Glen Ross and think, “I’m so much better than that – and not only that, but I must be pretty intelligent to appreciate a downer like this!” But a compassionate and caring person will think, “there but for the grace of God go I – and I just hope I don’t end up there someday too.”