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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Death Of A Salesman (1966)

A 60-ish traveling salesman (Lee J. Cobb) returns home from the road earlier than usual. It becomes clear that he is losing his faculties and the present, the past, illusion and reality interweave with each other as his condition deteriorates. One of the great American plays, Arthur Miller's beautifully written piece is frequently revived and Willy Loman, the salesman of the title, may be second only to Hamlet as the most challenging role frequently sought out by actors to test themselves. In actuality, Willy Loman is an obnoxious, blustery blowhard, the kind of man we would cross the street to avoid or make excuses not to have to be in his company. It's a tribute to Miller's great talent that he is able to make us understand Willy, feel his pain and ultimately to genuinely care about him. Lee J. Cobb originated the role in the 1949 original cast but when the 1951 film was made, the part went to Fredric March (who wasn't very good). Here, in this television production, Cobb gets to recreate his role for posterity and allows us to see how great he must have been on stage. Cobb is one of those actors (like Steiger, Scott, De Niro or Pacino) who often doesn't seem to understand that less is more but here his performance is perfectly modulated, punched when it needs to be punched, quiet when it should be quiet. Directed by Alex Segal. The first rate cast includes George Segal, Mildred Dunnock (also recreating her original stage role), James Farentino, Gene Wilder, Albert Dekker, Edward Andrews, Karen Steele, Bernie Kopell and Marge Redmond.

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