Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema selection is the rarely seen 1951 version of the very dark Death of a Salesman, produced by Stanley Kramer and starring the enormously talented Fredric March. March is excellent and Mildred Diunnock is amazing. The film garnered five Oscar nominations: 1952 Academy Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role - Fredric March, Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Kevin McCarthy (who also won New Star of the Year - Male - Kevin McCarthy), Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Mildred Dunnock, Best Cinematography - Black and White - Franz Planer, and Best Score - Adaptation or Treatment - Alex Nort.
It's one of the NY Times top 1000 films. Here was the 1951 NY Times film review by Bosley Crowther:
Now that Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" has been brought by Stanley Kramer to the screen and Fredric March has been given the opportunity to play its difficult leading role, a great many more million people, not only in this country but in the world, will have a chance to see this shattering drama at what is probably its artistic best. That chance was initiated at the Victoria Theatre yesterday.
For, in every respect, this transference to the motion picture form enhances the episodic structure and the time-ranging nature of the play—which, in short, tells a grim, reflective story of the terrible self-delusions of a man and the tragic upset that his faking works on his wife and sons. Where the earlier performance of the drama on the stage used the syntax of the screen, with time and location shifting often with the wandering of the man's mind, such movement and flow are thoroughly natural and consistent in the cinematic form. Past and present are run together with perfect smoothness and striking clarity in the film.
Furthermore, Mr. Kramer's production is so faithfully transcribed and well designed that it stands as a nigh exact translation of Mr. Miller's play, both in its psychological candor and its exhibit of a bleak bourgeois milieu. Except for a few small omissions of dialogue lines and words, the drama is offered in toto, right down to its torturing graveyard scene. And the whole atmosphere of middle-class drabness, which was visually strained on the stage, is here given full exhibition in skimpy bedrooms, kitchens and backyards.
Indeed, one perceptible advantage of this performance of the drama on the screen is the sense of a broader frame of reference for the "salesman's" failure that it conveys. The locale is nominally Brooklyn and points adjacent thereto, but this could happen in any American city and to anyone who lived by false ideals.
Mr. March's performance does a lot to illuminate this broader implication of the drama, for it fills out considerably the lack of humanity in the main character that Mr. Miller somehow overlooked and thus makes the character more symbolic of the frustrated "little man." The weakness of Mr. Miller's "salesman," in this corner's opinion, is a petty and selfish disposition, unredeemed by any outgoing love. Mr. March, by his personable nature, gives occasional fleeting glints of tenderness. Otherwise, he is the shabby, cheap, dishonest, insufferable big-talker of the play.
As the long-suffering wife of this faker, Mildred Dunnock is simply superb, as she was on the stage. Her portrayal of a woman who bears the agony of seeing her sons and husband turn out failures supports the one pretension of this drama to genuine tragedy. Cameron Mitchell and Kevin McCarthy are disturbingly shifty as the sons, and Howard Smith and Don Keefer do finely by the roles of close relatives that they played on the stage. Laslo Benedek's direction is commendable all the way.
"Death of a Salesman" is dismally depressing, but it must be acclaimed a film that whips you about in a whirlpool somewhere close to the center of life.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN, screen play by Stanley Roberts, based on the play by Arthur Miller, directed by Laslo Benedek. A Stanley Kramer Company Production presented by Columbia Pictures. At the Victoria.
Willy Loman . . . . . Fredric March
Linda Loman . . . . . Mildred Dunnock
Biff . . . . . Kevin McCarthy
Happy . . . . . Cameron Mitchell
Charley . . . . . Howard Smith
Ben . . . . . Royal Beal
Bernard . . . . . Don Keefer
Stanley . . . . . Jesse White
Miss Francis . . . . . Claire Carleton
Howard Wagner . . . . . David Alpert
Miss Forsythe . . . . . Elizabeth Fraser
Letta . . . . . Patricia Walker