Death of a Salesman (1951)

220px-Death_of_a_salesman_1951Death of a Salesman
Directed by Laslo Benedek
Written by Stanley Roberts from the play by Arthur Miller
Stanley Kramer Productions
First viewing/YouTube


This is a great and devastating story and Fredric March is great in it.

Willie Loman (March) is 63 years old and nearing the end of his 30-year career as a traveling salesman. He has read and absorbed the Dale Carnegie course but finds he no longer wins friends and influences people, if he ever did.  The voices from his past are becoming more real and insistent and he appears to be one bad decision away from suicide.  The hallucinations are so bad he is almost unable to drive a car.  Willie’s incredibly loyal and supportive wife Linda (Mildred Dunnock) is very worried.

Matters all come to head when Willie’s older son Biff (Kevin McCarthy) comes home for a visit.  Biff was a football player and father and son formed a kind of mutual admiration society when Biff was a high school football star.  Since then, Biff has become a drifter and a great disappointment to his father.  Almost anything they say to one another is the beginning of an argument.  To make matters worse, Biff’s playboy younger brother Happy decides to room with Biff at home during this visit.  Happy is a natural peacemaker but has little success with Biff and his father and has somehow gotten on the wrong side of his mother.


All the members of this family suffer from one delusion or another.  As the story progresses, Willie’s illusions are destroyed one by one.  Biff’s are stripped away as well.  The tragic ending is tempered slightly by a glimmer of hope that Biff may be able to escape his father’s fate.


This play hits me where I live and it always leaves me exhausted.  The number of lies these people tell themselves is staggering but not more so than the sadness of the reality they cover.  Fredric March’s performance as Willie Loman may be the one he was born for and absolutely should be seen.  The last few times I looked for this film I could not find it.  If you have any interest, you can catch it right now on YouTube.  Highly recommended.

Death of a Salesman received Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Actor (March); Best Supporting Actor (McCarthy); Best Supporting Actress (Dunnock); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.


4 thoughts on “Death of a Salesman (1951)

  1. This is one of March’s better performances. He had a knack for playing this sort of manic role, something he did just as well in Inherit the Wind. “Born to play this” comes pretty close to the truth if it doesn’t nail it on the head. He was definitely born for this type of character at least.

    I love Kevin McCarthy in this, too. And Mildred Dunnock, who holds the whole thing together emotionally.

    • I thought all the actors were very fine. Linda is really the character that gives the drama it’s heart isn’t she? Without her, it would be too cynical and dead I think. I read that the main reason this is not available is because Arthur Miller hated March’s performance and the direction of the hallucination scenes. It’s his play of course but I have to disagree. I thought March had the character of a man suffering from dementia nailed.

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