The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Art (and Commerce) of Adapting Plays to the Screen

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

Image Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) – is a great movie. Look at the cast:

Jack Lemmon

Al Pacino

Ed Harris

Alan Arkin

Kevin Spacey

Alec Baldwin

Jonathan Pryce

All of these guys working with David Mamet’s classic script (including a new character and monologue – both given by Alec Baldwin – that almost outshine the original material) come together to just blow the screen away. Pacino and Lemmon both were nominated (and in some cases won) numerous acting awards, and Lemmon’s portrayal of Shelley Levine is incredibly haunting, and lives on to this day on The Simpsons, in the guise of sad sack real estate agent Gil.

Yep, Glengarry is a terrific film…and yet, I have to say that it’s NOT a successful adaptation.

I did not fully realize this until I actually saw the recent Broadway revival of the play two years ago. This show featured another incredible cast, including Liev Schreiber in the Pacino role, Alan Alda in the Jack Lemmon role, and Jeffrey Tambor (of Arrested Development fame) rounding out the group. The tickets were a gift from my brother for my birthday, and while I was flattered at his generosity, I had no desire to see it. The movie, while great, is very depressing, and I simply didn’t know if I wanted to subject myself to its inherent tragedy all over again (especially not for the price!)

But I went…and I LAUGHED MY ASS OFF!

Yes, Glengarry is at its core a sad story, and yes the character of Shelley Levine (Lemmon and Alda, in this case) still resonates as one of the most tragic in modern theater, but Mamet gives his audience 85 hilarious minutes before the final denouement. Whereas I ended the film just shy of despondent, I walked out of the theater filled with the sense that I had seen a terrific show, and that I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. Let me reiterate that both the film and stage versions ended in the exact same way, but  the former bashed me over the head with the pathos from start to finish, while the latter had me enjoying one hell of a ride, even as you could see the collision that was forthcoming.

So while both Glengarrys could only be described as successes, I think I take issue with the film for failing to capture the spirit that Mamet so clearly and purposely infused into his play. To put it another way, if I had let my feelings of the movie (Great! Loved it! I never want to see it again!) control my decision to see this play, I would have missed out on something spectacular.


Author: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

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