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Alec Baldwin is part of a stellar cast in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Mr. Movie: Films about salesmen

Even in this day of the internet and smart phones, the traveling salesman and saleswoman who personally calls on customers is still the backbone of American commerce. Are there good movies about them? I thought you’d never ask!

The mother of all salesman flicks is Death of a Salesman, from Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play which is a microcosm of American commerce and family life. And we have three excellent versions. The first, in 1951, features the late Frederic March as Willy Loman, Mildred Dunnock as his long-suffering wife, and Cameron Mitchell and Kevin McCarthy as the sons. The 1985 version stars Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich. Both of these are good; the earlier one is a shade better. Also quite good is a 2002 Broadway play with Lee J. Cobb. Beware the 2008 version — it’s in a weird format that won’t run on most DVD players. 

Diamond Men (2001) has the underrated Robert Forster as the old veteran diamond salesman and Donnie Wahlberg as the raw rookie on the circuit. The veteran’s health and age are pushing him out, and he is offered a short respite to train the young guy. It’s a real culture clash, which is entertaining, and there are several nice twists and turns before an ending you will like.


The cast of Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) reads like a who’s who of actors. Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin are fine in David Mamet’s play about desperate real estate salesmen, who are really more like con men. A terrific character study, both of the salesmen and of America.     


Few actors can compare to Danny Devito as a sleazeball and he is at his smarmiest in Barry Levinson’s Tin Men (1987) about two siding salesmen who become even more hostile when their cars collide in Baltimore. A very young Richard Dreyfuss is good as Danny’s nemesis. Sometimes an uneven blend of comedy and pathos, Tin Men is entertaining if unresolved.


Last but hardly least, Salesman (1969) is a Maysles brothers documentary that follows real Bible salesmen on their daily rounds, their get-togethers and their sales meetings. An incredible job of cinema verite work, the film is so real and sometimes heart-breaking that parts of it are hard to take. But if you want to know what it’s like to be a salesman in America, you can’t do any better than this.


All of the movies in this column are available on DVD.  All are grown-up films.