DEATH OF A SALESMAN
Review by Michael Jacobson
Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich, Kate Reid, Stephen Lang, Charles Durning
Director: Volker Schlondorff
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
Features: Stills Gallery, “Private Conversations”
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: January 28, 2003
funny, you know…after all the highways and the trains and the appointments and
the years…you end up worth more dead than alive…”
of a Salesman by
Arthur Miller has to be considered one of the two greatest American plays ever
written (alongside Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire).
It paints a loving, sad portrait of a man for whom the parade has passed
by…a man who lived almost his entire life within the illusions of his own
grandeur, and for whom reality is finally and cruelly catching up.
man is Willy Loman, a 60 year old salesman who has been in the business for 34
years and who subscribed to the American Dream, but not the American Reality.
He carved out a living for his wife Linda (Reid) and his sons, Happy and
Biff (Lang and Malkovich), but never could see through his illusions of success
to the mediocre man he was in a hard, cold profession.
He dreamed of being liked, of having his name and personality open doors
for him. Now, he can’t even drive
well enough to get to his few meager appointments.
Dustin Hoffman starred as Willy Loman on Broadway, it was one of the most talked
about theatrical events of its time. In
fact, it was one of those performances that became so famous that nearly
everyone thought it a shame that so many of us outside of New York would never
see it, and that one day, like so many other great theatrical moments, it would
vanish only into the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to see it.
Few such moments are every really preserved for posterity.
the news that Hoffman and cast would be reprising their roles for television
changed all of that. Death of a
Salesman, as captured here on DVD, was one of the most striking TV events of
its time. I can still remember
being a high school student and the excitement and buzz surrounding the filmed
version of the play, and finally seeing the Hoffman performance that had earned
so much press. I even clearly
remember watching it on TV. It was
every bit as good as its hype.
we so defined by what we do that when we can no longer do it, we have no
identity? That seems to be the
issue pressing Willy, who in his old age can’t seem to do much more than
linger in the past. Over the course
of the play, we learn about his heartaches and failures, about how his once firm
relationship with his son Biff fell apart, about the choices he made, the
moments where pride guided him away from what might have been best for him, and
more. It’s no coincidence that
Miller gave him a last name that brings “low man” to mind.
boasted of success he never really had, he implanted the wrong values into Biff
so that he didn’t make the right efforts to follow his dreams, and he ended up
washed out when he could no longer do the one thing that defined him.
It’s a heartbreaking scene when he appeals to his very young boss,
whose father had given Willy his spot in the company.
“You can’t just eat the orange and throw the peel away!” he
pleads…a line of tragic irony, because that’s exactly what you do with an
orange. How sad that it is also
done to human beings as well.
line quoted above about being worth more dead than alive is a pivotal and
defining piece of dialogue in the play. Most
who’ve seen it can recall it; few remember his friend Charlie (Durning)
speaking the next line, “Nobody’s worth nothing dead.”
structure of the play brings the world of fantasy and reality into one another,
and this teleproduction does the same, with spaces between walls for Willy’s
visions to walk in and out of. More
than once, we find the poor man existing on more than one plane at the same
time. His visions of the past seem
to bring him moments of joy, but they are actually quite tragic, because they
are all about his regrets. All he
has left is to try and realize his failed dreams through Biff, but Biff is
beginning to accept about himself what Willy never could:
he’s just a regular guy like so many others; nothing special.
Nothing about him will open doors or make his way for him.
We can only wonder what his future will hold; we don’t have to wonder
about Willy, who makes one last misguided attempt to right his wrong choices.
is a beautiful, heartfelt and sad tale that uses fantasy to paint a colder
picture of reality than might have been possible. Arthur Miller himself said he thought his tale would work
better on film than on stage, and this made for TV movie demonstrates that well.
The cast is first rate across the board, but special mention must go to
the sad-eyed John Malkovich in his first breakout role, and of course, Dustin
Hoffman, whose embodiment of Willy Loman was sheer perfection.
For this televised version, he added an Emmy and Golden Globe to his
arsenal of accolades.
the real star is the text by Arthur Miller, and his creation of one of our
country’s great and universal tragic characters. The enduring popularity of his play is a testament to the
Willy Loman in all of us.
a monumental TV event, this print looks like it hasn’t been cared for very
much over the last couple of decades. The
80s are a problematic time for quality DVD, and this presentation adds to that
stigma. It looks it’s age, with
slightly soft and faded images, specks and spots on the negative, and mediocre
levels of detail and color. No
fault can really be thrown Image’s way, who seems to have done the best they
can with the source material, but frankly…it’s time for a little clean-up
taken from a play, the audio is naturally dialogue oriented, which represents
with no problems on this mono offering. Bits
of music from composer Alex North are a nice touch…otherwise, this is a
standard single-track offering; nothing particularly great nor detrimental about
main feature is a good one, the 80 minute film “Private Conversations” that
takes viewers onto the set of Death of a Salesman and up close to the
likes of Arthur Miller, Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich and director Volker
Schlondorff…a real treat. A
stills gallery is also included.