What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of the Great Muppet Guest Star Caper being hosted by RealweegieMidget Reviews and Taking Up Room. Together and individually, they’ve hosted enough of these events one would think they would have learned their collective lesson about Dubsism and it’s signature brand of nonsense. Rest assured that questionable judgement in accepting blog-a-thon guests in no way reflects on what great blogs they both have; or for those of any of the top-notch participants you can see here:
As the banner suggests, this event is all about movies or television programs featuring people who guest-starred starred on the Jim Henson/ITV program of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Glengarry Glen Ross centers on a collection of salesmen working for the proverbial “swampland in Florida” real-estate huckster firm Mitch and Murray. At the beginning, nobody is making any appreciable sales because they believe the leads being parceled out by office manager John Williamson (played by Kevin Spacey) are “weak.” The salesmen are convinced that the people in these leads don’t have either the money or the interest for investing in land.
To remind the salesmen who is in charge, the firm dispatches a top salesman named Blake (played by Alec Baldwin) to announce a contest for the sales. Blake’s message is wrapped in a slew of name-calling and general abuse, but his point is they suck at their jobs…which they will lose if they don’t win this contest. Those who close the most deals by the end of the month will not only not get the axe, but will be rewarded with the new and promising sales leads for the new Glengarry Highlands development.
This “throwing down of the gauntlet” prompts a myriad of responses from the salesmen. The first to act is Shelley “The Machine” Levene (played by Jack Lemmon). “The Machine” is an aging seller who was once highly effective salesman, but now he’s on a protracted cold streak and he has an ailing daughter. Since circumstances have him overwhelmed, he desperately pleads with Williamson to give him some of the Glengarry leads. Williamson refuses several attempts from Levene, but then offers to sell some of the better leads; the condition being it’s a “cash up front” proposition. Levene cannot accept as he doesn’t have the money.
Meanwhile, fellow salesmen Dave Moss (played by Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (played Alan Arkin – the actor I used to qualify this film for this event) while decrying how the firm is managed contemplate a bit of revenge by stealing the Glengarry leads then selling them to one of Mitch and Murray’s competitors. competing agency.
While those two story lines are emerging, another salesman Ricky Roma (played by Al Pacino) is putting a high-pressure sale on a nebbishy target named James Lingk (played by Jonathan Pryce). The plot twist happens the next morning when it is discovered the office has been burglarized. While the police are questioning everybody in the office, Lingk returns to demand the return of his check as his wife does not want to complete the deal.
Not wanting to lose his sale, Roma tries to stall Lingk by lying to him; Roma tells Lingk that his check has not yet been cashed so there is time to convince his wife to go along with the deal. However, Williamson is not aware what Roma is doing; he thinks Lingk is concerned that his check was stolen during the burglary. Williamson tells Lingk his contract was not stolen; that it went “downtown” with his check. Of course, this is not what Lingk wants to hear and he storms out of the office.
Knowing Lingk is likely to stop payment on his check…which means Williamson has essentially blown his deal, Roma explodes in a profanity-filled tirade, most of which is insults directed at Williamson. Since Levene has also closed a sale recently, he also takes the opportunity to stick it to Williamson. However during his own berating of Williamson, Levene reveals that he knew the tale about Lingk’s contract and check going downtown was a lie.
The problem is that Williamson immediately knows the only way Levene could know he lied to Lingk was to have seen those documents on his desk after hours…which means Levene had to be the burglar. Williamson tells Levene that he will tell the police what has happened if he does not return the leads. Levene reveals he can’t return the leads because replaced Aaronow in Dave Moss’ plan; Levene and Moss stole the leads and sold them. Levene then offers Williamson a bribe; a proposal which is flatly and coldly rejected.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Say what you will about this movie…some love it some hate it. Personally, it’s one of my favorites; if nothing else, you can’t deny GlenGarry Glen Ross has a high-powered cast. That’s the key to it’s hidden sports analogy. The movie is all about a bunch of quasi-legitimate salesmen played by some the best actors of their day whose characters are struggling in the face of new pressures exerted by their bosses.
In the sports world, there was almost no better example of a roster of top talent under extreme pressure from the boss to win (and falling short) than the New York Yankees of the 1980s. Like the movie, the Yankees are either loved or hated. Unlike the movie, I have the same feeling towards the “Bronx Bombers” I usually reserve for hangnails and tax audits. That’s why I found their utter futility during this time to be particularly satisfying. Perhaps the fact it reminds me of the era of the Yanks’ mediocrity might be why I love GlenGarry Glen Ross.
As for the aforementioned analogy, there’s no better place to start than pointing out the linear similarities between the casts of characters between the film and the 80’s New York Yankees. Along that line, the driving force for this comparison stems from the “win or you’re fired” approach represented in the movie by Alec Baldwin’s “Blake” and embodied by Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner.
Throughout his tenure as the team’s owner, Steinbrenner presided over some of the best of times, like the back-to-back World Series titles in the late 1970’s or the dynasty of the late 1990’s. But he was also at the helm for the trough of the 1980’s sandwiched in between those two peaks. One thing that never waivered during King George’s reign was an unrelenting expectation to be the best. That’s why in good times and bad, Steinbrenner was never shy about spending to get the players he wanted.
In the same way the movie wouldn’t have worked had the casting director replaced the likes of Jack Lemmon with Jack Black or Alan Arkin with Alan Thicke, the lousiness of Yankees wouldn’t have been nearly as delectable if Steinbrenner hadn’t kept the “Bronx Bombers” stocked with a similar “high-powered cast.” Just look at this sampling of some the talent Steinbrenner had in the 1980s.
But for as much as Steinbrenner was “Blake,” there’s no other choice for Jack Lemmon’s “Shelley Levene” than manager Billy Martin. Probably known for his fiery temper as much as his skill as a diamond skipper, the 1980s saw Martin’s “Levene-esque” decline. Early in his managerial career, Martin was seen as one this most sought-after skippers in all of baseball, leading the Minnesota Twins to a division title in 1969, and the Yankees to a World Series championship in 1977.
Because he was a winner, Steinbrenner just couldn’t quit Martin…and vice versa. Whenever the Yankees’ flailed in the 1980s, Martin was Steinbrenner’s “cure” for all that ailed his team. But just as quickly, Martin became the scapegoat. All tolled, George Steinbrenner hired Billy Martin to manage the Yankees five times, and subsequently fired him on just as many occasions. After a while, even they knew it had become a joke, so they played along with it.
Like Levene’s time as a salesman, Martin’s career with the Yankees wasn’t with out it’s comic moments, nor was it without it’s successes. But in the same way Father Time was catching up to Shelley Levene, Martin’s managerial skills were clearly on the wane.
Even during his “salad days,” Martin was known to drastically improve any team he managed in his first season; but his irascible personality fueled by his life-long battle with the bottle would usually get his welcome worn out after the third season. But for as much as George “Blake” Steinbrenner could only see the “winning Levene,” eventually the guy who stole the Glengarry leads would rear his ugly head.
The Moral of the Story:
Time only moves forward, and life doesn’t come with a “reset” button. While all good things come to an end, the hardest part is knowing when.
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I love the “moral of the story” here. Perfect.
Thanks for joining the blogathon with such a sterling cast, I’ve always enjoyed watching Jack Lemmon so added this to my to watch list.
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“Glengarry” looks worth it just for the cast alone–not only Alan Arkin but Ed Harris, who’s always awesome. Thanks again for joining the blogathon, J-Dub. It’s always a pleasure. 🙂
And I paraphrase, “A.B.B. Always be blogging. ALWAYS… be blogging!”
The 80s (and late 70s) Yankees were perfectly hate-able while Glengarry, particularly the “Put The Coffee Down” scene is perfectly loveable.
SNL’s Always Be Cobbling bit is equally as brilliant.