(1987)4Steve JonesThere have been a number of versions of The Glass Menagerie over the years, but perhaps none as sad or with such a feeling of hopelessness as Paul Newman's in the late '80s. Although breaking no real new ground in what is basically a filmed play, his crowded apartment setting nevertheless lends a freshly claustrophobic aura to the dynamics of the interactions between the characters, as each actor finds a new depth to the individual emotions that they convey. John Malkovich, a particular standout, is angrier than previous Toms, not merely pining for adventure, but, more than anything, just wanting out of a suffocating home that seems held together by little more than guilt and familial obligation. Joanne Woodward is a particularly crazy Amanda, constantly testing the patience of her long-suffering children. Karen Allen, in perhaps the best, albeit understated, performance of her career, might be the most fragile Laura ever -- surpassing even her delicate glass figurines. Pretty and sweet, she is also so painfully shy and withdrawn that she has become resigned to a loveless life. Amid such strong characters, James Naughton as the gentleman caller, though also quite good, sometimes seems a bit lost in the shuffle, especially when compared to Kirk Douglas' memorable portrayal in the 1950 version. Newman's Glass Menagerie, however, seems more about Tom and his dilemma anyway. The director provides no answers and passes no judgment; indeed, he seems to have conflicting feelings about Tom, admiring his risk-taking spirit, yet somewhat disappointed in his ultimate actions. Although Tom loves his sister and cares about his family -- even his mother -- the young man's growing bitterness at the unfairness of his less-than-fulfilling existence threatens to boil over within him. Tom finally escapes, of course, but, even then, he seems almost surprised at his inability to enjoy his new life. Malkovich does an excellent job in portraying a complex character whose anger and frustrations have not been sated by fulfilling his dreams. Instead, it's merely been replaced by a renewed sense of guilt at hurting an innocent, abandoning the only life he had ever known, and replacing it with one that, in the end, he realizes might be worse. There are no easy answers here, and nothing is as black-and-white as it might once have seemed.
Paul Newman directed this moving adaptation of Tennessee Williams' classic play The Glass Menagerie. Joanne Woodward stars as aging Southern belle Amanda Wingfield, whose domineering parenting has driven her shy, timid daughter Laura (Karen Allen) inward and has made her adventure-hungry son Tom (John Malkovich) miserable. Newman hasn't tried to open the original stage play up at all, preferring to keep all of the action within the Wingfield apartment. The cast performed the play in a Broadway revival prior to the filming. James Naughton appears as Laura's gentleman caller.