Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 American drama, adapted by David Mamet from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning play of the same name. The film depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen and how they become desperate when the corporate office sends a trainer to ‘motivate’ them by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. The film, like the play, is notorious for its use of profanity, leading the cast to jokingly refer to the film 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 film was not a commercial success, making only $10.7 million in North America, just below its $12.5 million budget. Al Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film.

The film depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen who are supplied with names and phone numbers of leads and regularly use underhanded and dishonest tactics to make sales. Many of the leads rationed out by the office manager lack either the money or the desire to actually invest in land. Blake (Alec Baldwin) is sent by Mitch and Murray, the owners of the office in which the characters work, to motivate the salesmen. Blake unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse on the men and announces that only the top two sellers will be allowed access to the more promising Glengarry leads and the rest of them will be fired.

Shelley ‘The Machine’ Levene (Jack Lemmon), a once-successful salesman now in a long-running slump and with a sick daughter, knows that he will lose his job soon if he cannot generate sales. He tries to convince office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) to give him some of the Glengarry leads, but Williamson refuses. Levene tries first to charm Williamson, then to threaten him, and finally to bribe him. Williamson is willing to sell some of the prime leads, but demands cash in advance. Levene cannot come up with the cash and leaves empty handed.

Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) complain about Mitch and Murray, and Moss proposes that they strike back at the two by stealing all the Glengarry leads and selling them to a competing real estate agency. Moss’s plan requires Aaronow to break into the office, stage a burglary and steal all of the prime leads. Aaronow wants no part of the plan, but Moss tries to coerce him, saying that Aaronow is already an accessory before the fact simply because he knows about the proposed burglary.

At a nearby bar, Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the office’s top ‘closer,’ delivers a long, disjointed but compelling monologue to a meek, middle-aged man named James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). Roma does not broach the subject of a real estate deal until he has completely won Lingk over with his speech. Framing it as being an opportunity rather than a purchase, Roma plays upon Lingk’s feelings of insecurity.

The salesmen come into the office the following morning to find that there has been a burglary and the Glengarry leads have been stolen. Williamson and the police question each of the salesmen in private. After his interrogation, Moss leaves in disgust, only after having one last shouting match with Roma. During the cycle of interrogations, Lingk arrives to tell Roma that his wife has told him to cancel the deal. Scrambling to salvage the deal, Roma tries to deceive Lingk by telling him that the check he wrote the night before has yet to be cashed, and that accordingly he has time to reason with his wife and reconsider.

Levene abets Roma by pretending to be a wealthy investor who just happens to be on his way to the airport. Williamson, unaware of Roma and Levene’s stalling tactic, lies to Lingk, claiming that he already deposited his check in the bank. Upset, Lingk rushes out of the office, threatening to contact the state’s attorney, and Roma berates Williamson for what he has done. Roma then enters Williamson’s office to take his turn being interrogated by the police.

Levene, proud of an unlikely sale he made that morning, takes the opportunity to mock Williamson in private. In his zeal to get back at Williamson, he carelessly reveals that he knows Williamson left Lingk’s check on his desk and did not make the bank run the previous night—something only the man who broke into the office would know. After some thought, Williamson catches Levene’s slip-of-the-tongue and compels him to admit that he broke into the office. Levene eventually breaks down and admits that he and Moss conspired to steal the leads to sell to a competitor. Levene attempts to bribe Williamson to keep quiet about the burglary. Williamson scoffs at the suggestion and tells Levene that the buyers to whom he made his sale earlier that day, Bruce and Harriet Nyborg, are in fact bankrupt and delusional and just enjoy talking to salesmen. Levene, crushed by this revelation, asks Williamson why he seeks to ruin him. Williamson coldly responds, ‘Because I don’t like you.’

Levene makes a last-ditch attempt at gaining sympathy by mentioning his sick daughter, but Williamson cruelly rebuffs him and leaves to inform the detective about Levene’s part in the burglary. Unaware of Levene’s guilt, Roma walks out of the office for lunch and talks to Levene about forming a business partnership before the detective starts calling for Levene. The film ends as Levene walks, defeated, into Williamson’s office.

‘Coffee is for closers’ is a monologue written by David Mamet specifically for Alec Baldwin for inclusion in the film version—the scene is not part of Mamet’s original play.

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.’ Peter Travers gave the film his highest rating in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine and wrote, ‘The pleasure of this unique film comes in watching superb actors dine on Mamet’s pungent language like the feast it is.’ 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 said, ‘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.

Lemmon’s portrayal of Shelley Levene was a major source of inspiration in the creation of the recurring character Gil Gunderson on ‘The Simpsons.’ The character borrows many of the mannerisms of Levene, and is often portrayed as an unsuccessful salesman.


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