Theatre: Glengarry Glen Ross

"A-B-C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing. Always Be Closing!"
Blake

A play by David Mamet, which was the basis for a 1992 film directed by James Foley and starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Ed Harris, about salesmen in a small firm who are given an ultimatum: bring in more sales or find a new job. The four major characters, all salesmen at the real-estate firm:
  • Ricky Roma: A hotshot and the current highest-selling salesman
  • Dave Moss: A frequent complainer
  • George Aaranow: A poor salesman and follower who cannot stand up for himself
  • Shelly "The Machine" Levene: A once-great salesman who has fallen upon a streak of "bad luck".

Notable for its flagrant use of profanity (which caused the cast and crew to refer to the movie as "Death of a Fucking Salesman"), no-holds-barred take on human savagery in sales, and shockingly honest portrayal of human nature. The film is still used by corporate sales training programs to demonstrate the "right" and "wrong" ways to make a sale.


This play and film provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Blake and his entire scene aren't in the play.
    • Levene's failed house call is also a new sequence, to illustrate how worthless the leads really are; it really drives home the hopelessness and desperation Shelly feels that drives him into trying to steal the Glengarry leads.
  • Alliterative List: A variation with Always Be Closing.
  • Angrish: Aaronow has such a bad case of this in his first scene that half his dialogue is in Angrish. Later on, after he's been talking to the detective, he has another serious attack of it:
    Aaronow: I meet Gestapo tactics...I meet Gestapo tactics...That's not right... No man has the right to..."Call an attorney," that means you're guilt... you're under sus..."Co...," he says, "cooperate" or we'll go downtown. That's not...as long as I've...
  • The Antagonist: Ostensibly Williamson, since he holds the coveted Glengarry leads but won't let his salesmen have them unless they close on the Glen Ross leads first (which are worthless). But he's not evil, he's just doing his job and following orders from corporate.
  • Batman Gambit: Roma pulls one when Lingk comes to the office to cancel the deal, telling Levene to pretend to be a client and asking him to mention "Kenilworth" when Roma rubs his head. The gamble is that Lingk will do the polite thing, concede that Roma is busy and let him leave with his "client". Lingk doesn't do it, but Roma nevertheless gets Lingk back in the deal — and then Williamson messes it all up.
  • Bookends: A passing train.
  • Brass Balls: The centerpiece of Alec Baldwin's epic speech is his use of a visual aid to demonstrate what a real estate seller needs.
  • Butt Monkey: Williamson. Yes, he's kind of a weasel, but the amount of abuse he puts up with by the salesmen on a daily basis is astounding.
  • Chromosome Casting: All of the named characters are men.
  • City Noir: Shots of a city in heavy rain at night with men wearing long coats.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: There's a reason the cast referred to the film as "Death of a Fuckin' Salesman". The word "fuck" and its derivatives are uttered 138 times. The word "shit" and its derivatives are uttered 50 times.
  • Country Matters:
    Ricky: You stupid fucking cunt. I'm talking to you, shithead!...Where did you learn your traaaaaade, you stupid fucking cunt, you idiot?
  • Crapsack World: The world in which these salesmen live is filled with deception, backstabbing, unfulfilled promises, psychotic work loads and constant screaming and threats back and forth. And that's on a good day! The atmosphere of the film is supposedly Truth in Television as playwright/screenwriter David Mamet based it on his own experiences working at a boiler room real estate office in the 1960s.
  • Downer Ending: There's not much to be happy about after Levene is presumably arrested and is taking Moss and Graff with him, Roma has lost $6,000 in commission and has a strong possibility of being sued, and the rest of the characters are no better off... Ironically, the only one that might benefit is Aaronow, since his other two competitors in the company are going to jail, making him second place by default. Unless Moss fingers him as an accomplice, that is...
  • Extreme Doormat: Lingk. When he realises that Roma's been bullshitting him, how does he respond? He apologises for letting Roma down.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie spans one night to the next morning.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Levene is sanguine, Roma is choleric, Moss is melancholic, Aaranow is phlegmatic.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Always Be Closing; Attention Interest Decision Action
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Particularly between Ed Harris and Al Pacino.
  • Henpecked Husband: Lingk. From his description we can deduce his wife to be wearing the pants in their relationship.
  • I Have a Family: Shelly begs Williamson not to rat him out and mentions his daughter, but it doesn't help.
  • Indy Ploy: When Roma's Batman Gambit with Lingk doesn't work, he resorts to one of these to get Lingk to trust him again (see Obfuscating Stupidity, below.) Such is his skill that it seems to be working, until Williamson screws up by telling Lingk what Roma has already flatly denied is the case.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How Levene slips up and reveals he was in on the heist. Williamson said he cashed Lingk's check. Levene calls Williamson out on lying about it, something he only could have known if he robbed the office.
  • Inhuman Resources: Blake the hatchet-man.
  • Jerkass: All of the main characters themselves. Ricky and Dave in particular.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Roma's jerkiness is related mostly to his manipulations of Lingk and his intolerance for Williamson's and Moss's jerk tendencies. When he isn't actively being a salesman, he goes out of his way to be optimistic towards Aaronow and is the other one to actively respect Shelly's skills as a salesman, even admitting his streak doesn't mean much compared to the long career of the Machine.
  • Justified Criminal: How Shelly probably sees himself due to his sick daughter.
  • Literal-Minded: Blake and his brass balls. The implied joke, of course, is that he thinks the salesmen are so literal minded they need the visual aid.
  • MacGuffin: The Glengarry account leads act as one. After the contest, those who keep their jobs get to use the leads, which means they'll be able to make some real money.
  • Mamet Speak: Perhaps the most famous example.
  • Meaningful Background Event: As Blake explains that the bottom two salesmen will lose their jobs at the end of the month, the chalkboard behind him tells the audience what the characters realize about that stipulation immediately: Roma has such an insurmountable lead on the leaderboard that the other three recognize they'll be fighting for just one spot. That's probably also why Blake went on with his "pep talk" despite Roma not being there.
  • Minimalist Cast: The story is told using six major characters and a few extras.
  • Morton's Fork: See Vicious Cycle.
  • Nepotism: How Williamson got his position.
  • Nervous Wreck: Lingk is on the edge after his wife disapproved of his acquisition plans.
  • Nighthawks Shot: There is a homage one to the painting Nighthawks.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Roma makes a valiant attempt to stall out Lingk's request for a refund by repeatedly pretending to not understand what he's saying, but it's all in vain.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Roma praising Shelly as a great salesman and teacher and inviting him for lunch, right before the latter is called in by the police officer to be interrogated about his crime. We can assume Shelly to become a Broken Pedestal to Roma afterwards.
  • Pet the Dog: Aaronow is so down on himself that even Moss tries to cheer him up. Even Roma tries to cheer him up.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Though the movie drops F-bombs frequently, Williamson has a particularly powerful one. Levene is begging Williamson not to tell the police he robbed the office, with Levene bringing up his daughter as a final plea. Williamson's response? "Fuck you."
    • Blake's rejoinder to Moss: "Fuck you. That's my name."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Several.
    • Blake has one that lasts for seven minutes in the movie version, where he lays into all of the salesmen in the office except for Roma, telling them that they either sell, or they're fired. Blake also calls them all manner of names, insults their home lives, and says that no one cares about them except for how much money they make.
    • Moss is going off on Roma before he leaves.
    • Roma delivers a spectacular one to Williamson when the latter accidentally sabotages the Lingk contract by telling him his cheque was taken to the bank the previous evening, starting off by calling him a "stupid fucking cunt" and then going from there.
      Roma: You stupid fucking cunt. You, Williamson... I'm talking to you, shithead! You just cost me six thousand dollars. Six thousand dollars. And one Cadillac. That's right. What are you going to do about it!? What are you going to do about it, asshole?! You fucking shit! Where did you learn your trade!? You stupid fucking cunt! You idiot! Whoever told you you could work with men?
      Baylen: Could I...
      Roma: I'm going to have your job, shithead. I'm going downtown and talk to Mitch and Murray, and I'm going to Lemkin. I don't care whose nephew you are, who you know, whose dick you're sucking on. You're going out, I swear to you, you're going...
      Baylen: Hey, fella, let's get this done...
      Roma: Anyone in this office lives on their wits... (to Baylen) I'm going to be with you in a second. (to Williamson) What you're hired for is to help us—does that seem clear to you!? To help us. Not to fuck us up... to help men who are going out there to try to earn a living. You fairy! You company man!... I'll tell you something else. I hope you knocked the joint off, I can tell our friend here something might help him catch you. (heads for the "interrogation room") You want to learn the first rule you'd know if you ever spent a day in your life... you never open your mouth till you know what the shot is. You fucking child...
    • Having spent the entire play being the office Butt Monkey, Levene eagerly takes the opportunity to take up where Roma left off with regards to Williamson. Unfortunately for him, he gets carried away and makes a slip he shouldn't have, thus enabling Williamson to destroy him utterly.
      Levene: You are a shithead, Williamson.
      Williamson: Mmm.
      Levene: You can't think on your feet you should keep your mouth closed! (beat) You hear me!? I'm talking to you! Do you hear me?!
      Williamson: Yes. (beat) I hear you.
      Levene: You can't learn that in an office! Eh? He's right. You have to learn it on the streets. You can't buy that. You have to live it.
      Williamson: Mmm.
      Levene: (sarcastically) Yes. "Mmm." Yes. Precisely. Precisely. 'Cause your partner depends on it. I'm talking to you, I'm trying to tell you something!
      Williamson: You are?
      Levene: Yes, I am.
      Williamson: What are you trying to tell me?
      Levene: What Roma's trying to tell you. What I told you yesterday. Why you don't belong in this business!
      Williamson: Why I don't-
      Levene: You listen to me, someday you might say, "Hey..." No, fuck that, you just listen what I'm going to say! Your partner depends on you. Your partner... a man who's your "partner" depends on you... you have to go with him and for him... or you're shit, you're shit, you can't exist alone-
      Williamson: (tries to move past Levene) Excuse me-
      Levene: "Excuse me" nothing! You be as cold as you want, but you just fucked a good man out of six thousand dollars and his goddamn bonus 'cause you didn't know the shot! If you can do that and you aren't man enough that it gets you, then I don't know what, if you can't take something from that, (blocks Williamson's path) you're scum, you're fucking white bread! You be as cold as you want. A child would know it, he's right! You're going to make something up, be sure it will help or keep your mouth closed!
      Williamson: Mmm.
      Levene: Now I'm done with you.
      (Williamson takes a moment to absorb Levene's last few sentences, then something occurs to him)
      Williamson: How did you know I made it up?
  • Running Gag: Moss describes anything he doesn't agree with as a "buncha fuckin' nonsense".
  • Second Place Is for Losers: First place gets a car, second place gets a set of steak knives, and everyone else gets fired.
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: An entire office full of them, and you will end up rooting for some of them.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    • Subverted by Blake when Moss attempts to criticize him and he quickly adds his rebuttal.
    • Levene's long-awaited chance to have a gloat to Williamson is well and truly shot down when Williamson picks up on a little slip that Levene shouldn't have made:
      Williamson: How did you know I made it up?
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Ricky talks about having a smoke after a passionate night of sex, and how he felt supremely satisfied at that moment.
  • Sole Survivor: Considering Moss, Levene, and maybe even Roma are in a load of trouble in the end, then by default Aaranow is the one who gets to keep his job.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Especially the play, but the film still qualifies.
  • Super Gullible: Lingk is not only an Extreme Doormat and Henpecked Husband, he also swallows every lie the Shady Real Estate Agent Roma feeds him without getting suspicious. Even when one of Roma's statements is exposed as untrue by a third person, Lingk's reaction is to apologize for letting Roma down.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The shot of Williamson saying "You robbed the office!" to Levene is included in the film trailer.
  • Vicious Cycle: The salesmen complain that they're stuck in one. They can't make sales without good leads, but they can't get good leads without sales. Blake counters that a real salesman could make sales with bad leads.
  • Wham Line:
    Williamson: How did you know I made it up?
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: We never find out where Rio Rancho is, or any of the other pieces of real estate these guys are selling.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Shel used to be the best salesman on the firm.
  • Word Salad Title: Even after watching the play/movie you may understand that these are important account names, but you probably won't understand why they're important enough to be put together and made the title. The tile possibly refers to the gamut of highs & lows a salesman can run through - both the best (Glengarry) and worst (Glen Ross) estates that Ricky Roma has come across to sell; it's quite probable that the events of the movie set a nadir even lower than the latter for all involved.