Synopsis by Bruce Eder
It was considered a serious coup at Columbia Pictures when producer Stanley Kramer landed the rights to Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and got most of the key members of the Broadway cast for the movie, plus Kevin McCarthy from the original London cast. The one exception was Lee J. Cobb, who'd done the part of Willy Loman on Broadway but, because of his alleged past left-wing political associations, couldn't do the movie -- so Kramer and Columbia went with a proven box office star, Fredric March. He plays Willy Loman, who has spent a lifetime pursuing success, only to find himself a failure at age 60, a victim of poor choices, lost opportunities, and unreasonable expectations, especially for his two sons, and in particular the older one, Biff (Kevin McCarthy). Despite the support of his loving, patient wife Linda (Mildred Dunnock, in the performance of a lifetime), Willy's life comes apart along with his hold on reality, as he increasingly slips between the present and the past, reliving incidents in a desperate search for what went wrong. March brings a good deal of dignity to the role, and McCarthy and Cameron Mitchell are superb as his two sons, but the movie was a failure at the time of its release, partly owing to its difficult subject matter -- the failure of the American dream was not the first item on every moviegoer's list in 1951, no matter how successful the play had been on Broadway or how many awards it won -- and also to March's performance, which was just as likely the fault of director Laslo Benedek; he's sympathetic but too externalized, without Cobb's seething energy (represented in the 1960's television portrayal), and in the second half is too over-the-top in his madness.
aging, ambition, American-dream, brother, business, career, crisis, death, disillusionment, dream, employment, failure, family, fate, father, flashback, ghost, house, ideals, life, lifestyle, lost, man, mid-life-crisis, mortgage, opportunity, past, patient [medical], payment, realization, redemption, son, spiritual, struggle, suffering, turmoil, unemployment, values, wife, woman