Monday, July 4, 2011

Death Of A Salesman

The DVD cover.
 This version is not the 1951 film adaptation of Arthur Miller's play but a 1966 made for television film. I watched it last night and it was one of the most intense and satisfying watches I have had in quite some time. It is considered the greatest American play of the 20th Century and it won a Pulitzer in 1949 the year of its publication. It was staged that year with both John Lee Cobb and Mildred Dunnard and had a run of 742 performances.

 In this made for television film both Cobb and Dunnard reprise their stage roles as Willy and Linda Lohman. It is unique and interestingly made because it is filmed as if the viewer is watching a play and not a film. The sets are very much play sets and yet it is filmed in a classic film manner which uses all the usual camera angles etc. I remember this type play cum film from the late 1970's early 80's as my old man use to watch them on a Friday night. I was always enrapt by the play sets even though I couldn't understand the narratives! They always appeared boring and I used to run when a Shakespeare play turned up! ( I remember Laurence Olivier very well! ). I wish I had access to them all now as they have left an indelible mark in my mind.

 But times have changed as I really like this type of play/film, and I still have an affinity with the sets. Unfortunately this type of thing has died out and they are very hard to find so it was with relish that I watched this. I'm not sure of the plays original length but this has been abridged from its television length. At 99 minutes it is like a full length film and I would liked to have seen it in its entirety even though what I saw was outstanding.

 If you have never seen this type of film/play then what you get is a set like you would see on a stage and the actors act it out like a play whilst being filmed. Stage acting is a totally different skill to camera acting and the skill level on display here is phenomenal. John lee Cobb is sublime as Willy Loman, a man who is enduring a breakdown and has attempted several suicide attempts. For me he is the highlight and a good example of stage acting. His voice projection is wonderful and I loved how the sets are laid out for filming purposes so that the actors can move to each one seamlessly without a cut in the film.

 There are cuts in the film as some sets are not central to the story and happen outside of the Loman house. You get the idea when you see an actor move from one narrative to another as they move past prop walls and windows that have another set in shadows behind them. I loved it visually and it brought back the wonder I had at this type of production as a boy. A good example is in one scene Willy goes into a bathroom and the viewer sees the back of the washbasin as if looking into the room instead of a conventional film where you are in there with him. It is wonderful stuff and the production value is extremely high which saw it win a very well deserved Emmy.

 The cast is just superb and I was very, very surprised when a very young Gene Wilder walked on!! I couldn't believe my eyes! He doesn't have a big part but he was an actor I never took to and I was startled by how accomplished he was as a stage actor where he, like so many others, started his career. John Lee Cobb cannot be praised enough as Willy Lohman. He is a stage actor of real note and this is his role absolutely. Mildred Dunnard is superb to as Linda Lohman. She is a mousy woman who has suffered her husbands decline into depression for a long time and yet won't turn her back on him. The two sons are well played as well and I couldn't fault the cast at all.

 It is an emotionally shattering play and the actors really engage the viewer and make them feel the pain of the story. I felt my self squirm at times as things got to close and real for comfort, but this is its strength as it is something that we can can all recognise. The film/play adaptation works well because Lohman talks to himself non stop and with television techniques the viewer gets to see through walls as his family listen to him. This same technique is used well to as Lohman looks back on his life through a series of flashbacks.  Certain camera angles are used so as not to interrupt the actors movements and the skill of it all is just beyond mention. What television has done is give a continuity that the play couldn't as the curtain would have to closed so sets and clothes could be changed.

Cover of the play's first edition.
 If you are a film aficionado then this is compulsory viewing. It is a type of film making that has now gone and it is a real shame because there is an incredible amount of skill involved in producing film/plays for the screen. I like them very much and wish I could get my hands on more of them. The difference between stage and screen acting is huge and this is a good example and well worth watching to see why.

 Well worth your time as Death of a Salesman is a truly great play that will shatter your emotions. This made for television film/play, if you can find a copy, is a more than satisfying watch. I'm sure anyone with any modicum of intelligence will be in awe of the high production values and the performances, especially that of John Lee Cobb who is just on another level!

Highly, highly recommended.

Click here for a synopsis and more on this very famous American play:

And here for a look at the DVD version of this fine television production:


  1. Despite its staginess, this is an excellent production of Miller's powerhouse drama, and quite possibly Lee J. Cobb's finest performance.

  2. I loved the staginess with this. Like I say it is a style that has always fascinted me. It certainly isn't for the faint hearted is it? And you are right this would have to be cobb's finest performance..he makes the part his own.

  3. I have seen this years ago and I loved it, powerful and very impressively done. Like you Brent, I like the staged aspect of it.

  4. It is certainly powerful isn't it?! It was so satisfying because with millions and milions spent on making Transformers 3 and The Green Lantern etc this showed that big budgets amount to squat over brilliant acting.
    I love the stage settings as they are mere props with the acting and script being the star. Cobb is astonishing and he had me spell bound with his emotional power and believable decline towards suicide.
    A brillinat production that I wish more people would take the time to watch. I can suffer stuff like Transformers etc if I have great stuff like this in between!

  5. I've watched the Dustin Hoffman version ages ago and really liked it. It's a favourite play of mine!

    Will keep a look out for this one just to compare the too (if the dvd catches my eye I may buy it!)

  6. Karina WILL NOT be disappointed if she buys, borrows, steals, or inherits a copy of this DVD!!!!! Honestly Cobb will blow Hoffman away!!! It really is some of the best acting I've seen and well worth watching.
    I honestly cannot speak of or praise this enough....I borrowed this from our public library so it may be a place to lok if they have DVD's to loan.