The Glass Menagerie (1987 film)

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The Glass Menagerie
Promotional poster
Directed by Paul Newman
Produced by Burtt Harris
Written by Tennessee Williams
Starring Joanne Woodward
John Malkovich
Karen Allen
James Naughton
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by David Ray
Distributed by Cineplex Odeon Films
Release date
  • October 23, 1987 (1987-10-23)
Running time
134 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Glass Menagerie is a 1987 American drama film directed by Paul Newman. It is a replication of a production of the Tennessee Williams play of the same title that originated at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and then transferred to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.[1]

The film is the fourth adaptation of the Williams play, following a 1950 feature film and television movies made in 1966 and 1973. It was shown at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival[2] and the Toronto International Film Festival before opening in New York City on October 23, 1987.


Introduced by Tom Wingfield as a memory play, it is based on his recollection of his disillusioned and delusional mother Amanda and her shy, crippled daughter Laura. Amanda's husband abandoned the family long ago, and her memory of her days as a genteel Southern belle surrounded by devoted beaux may be more romanticized than real. Tom is an aspiring writer who works in a warehouse to support his family, and the banality and boredom of everyday life leads him to spend most of his spare time watching movies in local cinemas at all hours of the night. Amanda is obsessed with finding a proper "gentleman caller" for Laura, who spends most of her time with her collection of glass animal figurines. To appease his mother, Tom eventually brings Jim O'Connor home for dinner, but complications arise when Laura realizes he is the man she loved in high school and has thought of ever since. He dashes her hopes of a future together when he announces he is engaged. Infuriated, Amanda lashes out at her son for raising his sister's hopes and Tom leaves, never to return to his family.


Critical reception[edit]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film "a serious and respectful adaptation, but never an incendiary one, perhaps because the odds against its capturing the play's real genius are simply too great. In any case, this Glass Menagerie catches more of the drama's closeness and narrowness than its fire . . . [It] starts out stiffly and gets better as it goes along . . . But quiet reverence is its prevailing tone, and in the end that seems thoroughly at odds with anything Williams ever intended."[1]

Desson Howe of the Washington Post observed, "Acting is definitely the trouble in Menagerie. There's an awful lot of it here. And there are many words - fine words by Tennessee Williams. But before that no-nonsense lens, and as emoted by Malkovich and Woodward, they seem time-consuming, inflated, dated and theatrical. The film's few good moments happen when mouths are firmly shut. Which is why Karen Allen, one of the screen's great underrated actresses, comes off best. As frail and softspoken daughter Laura, awaiting gentleman callers who never come, she's the best film performer here . . . Woodward, she with the longest resumé, is the disappointment. Apparently understating, she speaks in a low, squeaky tone - a kind of laryngitic falsetto. It's so irritating it makes her moments of hysteria a relief. She is also at her best when wordless . . . Malkovich, as the pivotal Tom, is certainly watchable . . . But as the son bearing his mother's pushiness and the brother tethered to his sister's social infirmity, his actions are obvious and broad. They smell of the stage. Which seems to have been director Newman's intention. But by filming this play in straightforward manner . . . Newman emphasizes the artificiality of theater and distances you from the play."[3]

Variety called it "a reverent record" of the Williams play "one watches with a kind of distant dreaminess rather than an intense emotional involvement" and cited the "brilliant performances . . . well defined by Newman's direction."[4]

It currently holds a 67% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Sometime after the film's theatrical run, the film was released on videocassette in the United States in 1988 by MCA Home Video and in Canada that same year by Cineplex Odeon. The film has never been released on DVD and as of January 4, 2010, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has yet to announce any plans for a Region 1 DVD release. As of July 6, 2013, it is currently available through AT&T U-Verse Screen Pack.


External links[edit]