Death of a Salesman (1951 film)

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Death of a Salesman
Death of a salesman 1951.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by László Benedek
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by Stanley Roberts
Story by Arthur Miller (playwright)
Starring Fredric March
Mildred Dunnock
Kevin McCarthy
Cameron Mitchell
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Franz Planer
Studio Columbia Pictures[1]
Release dates
  • December 20, 1951 (1951-12-20)
Running time 115 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.2 million (US rental)[3]

Death of a Salesman is a 1951 film adapted from the play of the same name by Arthur Miller. It was directed by László Benedek and written for the screen by Stanley Roberts. It received numerous nominations for awards, and won several of them, including four Golden Globe Awards and the Volpi Cup. Alex North, the man who had written the music for the Broadway version of the play, composed the score for the film, receiving an Academy Award nomination for his music.[4]

Plot[edit]

Willy Loman has led a life consisting of sixty years of failure. Loman's wife supports him, but he soon begins to lose his grip on reality and slips between the past and the present, frantically trying to find where he went wrong.[2]

Cast[edit]

The cast consisted mainly of the Broadway cast, with the addition of Kevin McCarthy from the original London Cast. However, Fredric March replaced Broadway actor Lee J. Cobb after concerns with Cobb's alleged past left-wing political associations arose.[2]

Actor/Actress Role
Fredric March Willy Loman
Mildred Dunnock Linda Loman
Kevin McCarthy Biff Loman
Cameron Mitchell Happy Loman
Howard Smith Charley
Royal Beal Ben
Don Keefer Bernard
Jesse White Stanley
Claire Carleton Miss Francis
David Alpert Howard Wagner

Career of a Salesman[edit]

Just before the film was about to come out, Arthur Miller threatened to sue Columbia Studios over the short which was to appear before Death of a Salesman.[5] This short film, Career of a Salesman, showed what the producers believed was a more typical American salesman, and was an attempt to defuse possible accusations that the Death of a Salesman was an anti-American film.[5] Eventually, Columbia agreed to remove the ten-minute short from the film's theatrical run.[5]

Miller saw Career of a Salesman as an attack upon his work, proclaiming "Why the hell did you make the picture if you're so ashamed of it? Why should anybody not get up and walk out of the theatre if Death of a Salesman is so outmoded and pointless?"[5] He argued against the portrayal of the salesman profession as "a wonderful profession, that people thrived on it, and there were no problems at all".[6] Eventually, the very attitude that led Columbia to commission the intro led to the failure of Death of a Salesman: people and businessmen in a 1950s political climate tried to distance themselves from a film depicting American failure in the 1950s.[2][5]

Production[edit]

Benedek took great care in making the film a close transcription of the play.[1] In many places, the film uses Miller's lines verbatim, sometimes leaving out only small lines of dialogue.[1] However, the playwright claimed the movie was ruined by the truncation of key scenes.[7] In fact, the playwright had no involvement with or control over the movie.[6] Benedek also stressed the dreary, middle class setting of the film, using small rooms and gray shots.[1] The movie was filmed primarily in Brooklyn.[1]

Reception[edit]

Though the film won over many film critics and received nominations for many awards, it was a box office failure. The subject matter, the failure of the American dream, did not appeal to many of the era's moviegoers.[2] Miller himself denounced the adaptation of his play, claiming the actors all sounded like "Willy Loman with a diploma, fat with their success".[5] He also claimed that, though he wrote the play cinematically, Benedek managed to "chop off almost every climax of the play as though with a lawnmower" and portray Loman as a lunatic, rather than a victim.[5][6]

As of September 2011, the film has never been commercially released in any home-viewing format, primarily because Columbia lost the rights when they were sold for the television remake with Dustin Hoffman. However, the film was preserved in 2013 by Columbia and The Film Foundation, which would suggest that the rights problem may have at last been resolved.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards[edit]

1952 Golden Globe Awards

1952 Venice Film Festival

New York Times Critics' Pick

  • Top 1,000

Nominations[edit]

1952 Academy Awards

1952 Directors Guild of America Awards

1952 British Academy Film Awards

1952 Venice Film Festival

1952 Writers Guild of America Award

  • Best Written American Drama
  • Robert Meltzer Award

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Crowther, Bosley (December 21, 1951). "The Angel with the Trumpet (1950): THE SCREEN: FOUR NEW MOVIES OPEN; 'Death of a Salesman,' With Fredric March and Mildred Dunnock, at Victoria". New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Eder, Bruce. "Death of a Salesman". AllMovie. Retrieved March 12, 2009. 
  3. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  4. ^ "Alex North, a Film Composer, 80; Had 40-Year Hollywood Career". New York Times. September 11, 2001. Retrieved March 13, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Kerrane, Kevin (1 September 2004). "Arthur Miller vs. Columbia Pictures: the strange case of Career of a Salesman". Journal of American Culture. Blackwell Publishing. Retrieved March 13, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c Solman, Paul (1999). "AN AMERICAN CLASSIC (Interview with Arthur Miller)". PBS. Retrieved March 13, 2009. 
  7. ^ Shewwy, Don (September 15, 2008). "TV'S CUSTOM-TAILORED 'SALESMAN'". New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2009. 

External links[edit]