Clearly, "Death of a Salesman" is the best play that Arthur Miller has written. It is almost as if he wrote it with Lee J. Cobb in mind to play salesman Willy Loman. Lee J. Cobb (then 38 years old) had performed this role on Broadway starring in the original cast. The play ran for 742 performances from February 10, 1949 thru November 18, 1950.
I saw the television movie which ran on CBS television when it was broadcast in 1966. Back then we only had a black and white TV. Thirty-nine years later I purchased the DVD and marveled in seeing "Death of a Salesman" in color.
Sixteen years later a now 55 year old Cobb reprises his Broadway stage role for the television cameras and was emotionally and dramatically perfect. Cobb plays road salesman Willy Loman so well that the viewer can see him having an emotional breakdown as the play progresses to it's conclusion.
Part of the beauty of this television production is how it was video taped on a stage to resemble how an audience would see "Death of a Salesman" if it were being performed on the Broadway stage. The sets resembled those of a stage play. The only major difference is that, unseen by the viewers, the cameras were positioned to afford many dramatic angles and facial shots that could not be realized on a stage with a live audience.
The television movie co-stars Mildren Dunnock as Willy's wife Linda Loman. Ms. Dunnock was also in the original Broadway cast. Her dramatic and long suffering role as Willy's wife is played with emotion and genuine love for her salesman husband. I can never forget when she is scolding her adult sons for their lack of compassion to their father when she says, "....So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be paid to such a person."
George Segal turns in an excellent performance as Willy's son, Biff Loman, a son whom Willy had such dreams for Biff to be a college football star only to have a riff happen between Biff and his father. When Biff and Willy physically attack each other one can relate to real life when love covered over by hatred exists in real life families.
James Farentino plays the playboy son, Happy Loman who is a disappointment to Willy's dreams and his mother's respect for him. Farentino is well matched as Biff's brother and at times the two brothers reflect upon their youthful years when they were still in high school and the pride of their father's eye.
Gene Wilder (of Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein fame) turns in a surprise performance at age 33 years old as Bernard the smart son of Willy's neighbor, Charley.
Veteran character actor Edward Andrews gives a fine performance as Charley. Maybe Charley is Willy's only true friend. Throughout the play, Charley tries shows genuine concern for Willy's predicament and tries to help him, to no avail, because Willy will not listen to Charley's wise counsel.
Albert Dekker plays Willy's older brother Ben. Ben is played as an hallucination. Ben's appears in Willy's mind dressed as a successful man who went away to make his fortune. Willy speaks to his brother as Hamlet spoke to his dead father and asks for Ben's advice on whether Willy has done right by his sons. Brother Ben's apparent success torments the mind of Willy.
Bernie Kopell plays Howard Wagner the heir and president of the Wagner Company that Willy has worked at for many years. Bernie Kopell went on to become well known as Dr. Adam Bricker in the TV series "The Love Boat" as well as being cast in many movies and TV series.
Character actor Stanley Adams has a small role as a waiter when Biff, Happy, and Willy meet for dinner. Up until his death in 1977 Stanley Adams appeared in roles in 65 motion pictures. Supporting roles were played by June Foray, Joan Patrick, Marge Redmond, and Karen Steele. At 88 years of age in 2005, June Foray continues to work in films doing cartoon voices. She is the voice of Rocky the Squirrel, Tweety Bird's Granny, and other various voices in 158 movie roles.
The dialogue written by Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman is quite lengthy and difficult to perform by it's scope. Some passages delivered by Willy Loman comprise a whole page of dialogue. Biff, Happy, and Linda, likewise have dialogue segments of large paragraphs of speech.
I followed the TV play using the play script and did notice that some lines from the play script were omitted during the television production. Some lines were combined and rearranged for the benefit of keeping the camera on the speaker for continuity. Yet, in no way did this detract from the movement of the play.
Everyone who is a lover of good drama should find this DVD and enjoy what used to be the standard fare on television drama during the 1960s when great literary writings were presented to an appreciative audience much different than today's fast paced TV, remote control clicking audiences are now.
Death of a Salesman will keep you glued to your seat and you won't even think of going to the refrigerator for snacks. See this movie. It is a "10."
21 out of 22 found this helpful