Two days ago a new Lionsgate Bluray of James Foley‘s Glengarry Glen Ross (’92) went on sale. As good as the performances are (particularly Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin‘s), I was never able to really sink into this thing because it wasn’t the play, and the play, I’m telling you, really was the thing. The play was way better. It got you high it was so good.
The Foley film? Not bad, decently rendered, respectable but too noirish and rainy — the glum mood is too on-the-nose. And for me it has no serious current except for Baldwin’s steak-knives speech, which wasn’t in the play.
Sometime around 3.25.84 I attended a Broadway pre-opening performance of the original Gregory Mosher-directed play with all the big-gun critics (Frank Rich, etc.) in the orchestra. Joe Mantegna‘s Tony Award-winning performance as Ricky Roma ruled — a performance as seminal and historic as Humphrey Bogart‘s Duke Mantee in the B’way stage version of The Petrified Forest. Not to mention Mike Nussbaum, Robert Prosky (a brilliant Shelley Levine), Lane Smith, James Tolkan, Jack Wallace and J.T. Walsh.
Two key differences between Mantegna’s and Pacino’s reading of Roma’s brilliant philosophical sales pitch:
(1) After asking Jonathan Pryce if he’s ever “taken a dump that made you feel like you’d slept for 12 hours”, Pacino goes to the bar to get a couple of fresh drinks and winks at Ed Harris, a fellow salesman from the real-estate office. That wink is for the audience, of course — an assurance that Pacino isn’t really talking about life, etc. An actor who knows the realm should never wink in a Mamet piece. But Foley or Pacino felt it was needed, and in so doing the scene was slightly degraded.
(2) Several seconds later Pacino says that when a woman serves him cafe au lait and gives him a cigarette after a night of lovemaking his “balls feel like concrete,” but in the film Pacino adds a little “eh?” and a smile. When Mantegna said that line on-stage he just said it. You should never divert from Mamet, never add any business — just act it as written.