“Glengarry Glen Ross” is an ensemble set in a Chicago sales office. The characters are selling real estate, though they’re implied to be thinly-disguised swindlers. At the story’s outset, the salesmen are informed via an excoriating pep talk by Blake (Alec Baldwin) that all but the top two performers will be fired at month’s end.
Lemmon plays Shelley “The Machine” Levene, a once accomplished salesman who’s fallen into some bad luck. Everyone in the movie is perfectly cast and Lemmon is no exception: he’s the oldest actor in the cast and a legend, but also famous for playing every-men. Levene even feels a bit like Lemmon’s character in “The Apartment,” a put-upon but optimistic office drone named C.C. Baxter, aged 30 years.
In Lemmon’s final interview, he praised Mamet’s writing and dismissed complaints about his fondness for curse words:
“Because of Mamet’s writing for one thing, and the characters in it. And, the relationship with the characters I thought was just terrific. Language offended some people but it’s the way those guys would talk. A writer like David Mamet is hardly going to use four-letter words just to get an audience excited. The language that real estate salesmen use when there’s nothing but males in the office can get pretty raw.”
“Glengarry” was inspired by Mamet’s time managing a real estate office, so he would know. Lemmon points to not just the language, but the depth of the characters speaking it. The cast may be co-workers, but they’re all different men: Roma (Pacino) is confident and successful, Moss (Harris) is bark without any bite, Aaronow (Alan Arkin) is spineless, and Levene wears an affable smile to hide self-pity and an ego.
Levene’s not just duplicitous, he also has the most backstory, between his once sterling career and his sick daughter. There’s another possible reason for Lemmon’s fondness; he got the most challenging part to play.
/Film – ‘Slash Film: David Mamet Made Glengarry Glen Ross One Of Jack Lemmon’s Favorite Films’
Author: Devin Meenan
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January 14, 2023