“The Glass Menagerie” (1987) starring Joanne Woodward, John Malkovich, & Karen Allen

Tom [in the opening]: Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you an illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

In Tennessee Williams’ memory play, Tom Wingfield (an aspiring writer working at a shoe warehouse) longs to escape from his stifling apt. in St. Louis, where his genteel/Southern-bred mother, Amanda, worries about the future prospects of his older sister, Laura (who walks w/ a limp and is mentally fragile). While Tom escapes to the movies, Laura has created a world of her own w/ her collection of glass figurines. The original Broadway stage play opened at the Playhouse Theatre on March 31, 1945 and ran for 563 performances. The play has autobiographical elements, featuring characters based on Williams (named Thomas), his mother, and his sister (Rose). Growing up, I saw the 1973 TV version starring Katherine Hepburn (Amanda), Sam Waterston (Tom), Joanna Miles (Laura), and Michael Moriarty (Jim- the gentleman caller) on PBS. All 4 actors received Emmy noms; Miles and Moriarty won. Waterston and Moriarty (who started in the theater) are best known for their roles as ADAs on Law and Order.

Amanda: Rise and Shine! Rise and Shine!

Tom: I will rise but I will NOT Shine…

This movie was directed by Paul Newman (who was married to Woodward); they were an iconic pair in front of and behind the camera. The New York Times reviewer wrote (in part): “starts stiffly and gets better as it goes along, with the dinner-party sequence its biggest success; in this highly charged situation, Ms. Woodward’s Amanda indeed seems to flower.” Amanda (Joanne Woodward) is a survivor who has to be practical; she works at a department store and sells magazine subscriptions on the side. Her charming/alcoholic husband (whose portrait hangs in a prominent place in the apt.) abandoned the family long ago (“a telephone man who fell in love with long distance”). Amanda speaks often of the comforts of her youth and the admiration she received as a young woman (“17 gentlemen callers on one afternoon”).

Amanda: You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!

Tom (John Malkovich) chafes under the boring routine of his his life, longing for “adventure.” Is he really going to the movies (even Amanda is suspicious), or is this cover for something Williams couldn’t reveal in the 1940s? As one viewer commented: “Malkovich etches a remarkable portrayal of Tom- defiantly unafraid of the character’s possible gay subtext- that grows in poignancy to a heartbreaking final monologue.” Malkovich had better clothes (and a nice hairpiece) than Waterston, who dressed more like a working-class man.

Amanda becomes obsessed w/ finding “a gentleman caller” for Laura (Karen Allen), who dropped out of business college and has no job. Allen conveys a lot of vulnerability in her characterization. I esp. liked the scenes w/ Tom and Laura; they are very close (though of differing personalities). Under pressure from his mother, Tom invites Jim (James Naughton), a shipping clerk/friend from work, to dinner. In one of his monologues, Tom explains that “the gentleman caller” represents “something that one hopes for.” I really liked how Moriarty played Jim, but I think Naughton did a good job also.

It turns out that Jim is the boy who Laura had a crush on in HS; he was a popular athlete, singer, and actor. Now, he is a confident/positive-thinking young man seeking to improve his position. Jim tries to get Laura to overcome her “inferiority complex” and they dance and even share a kiss. Even though I knew the story, I felt disappointed when Jim (considered the most “normal” character) revealed that he was engaged. Tom goes off to the Merchant Marines, but he always regrets that he couldn’t help Laura (just as Williams couldn’t prevent the lobotomy that was performed on Rose).

[1] Paul Newman shows much respect for Williams’ play (some will say “too much”), but when you deal with first class actors, who cares?

His wife Joanne Woodward displays of the nuances of an over-possessive mother, beyond good and evil; deserted by a man whose picture is still hanging on a wall, she tries to help her children avoid her sad life… […Wearing a horrible grey wig, she still thinks she’s attractive and puts on her coquette act before Jim. A great performance by an actress.

[2] Under-rated beautifully realized version of a famous play – everything is just right and Karen Allen’s work as the tragic Laura is deeply moving… 

[3] Joanne Woodward shines in a multi-layered, brilliant turn as one of the most interesting characters in modern literature, Amanda Wingfieid. She gives just the right touch to small moments that give the viewer an enlightening peek at the desperate condition of the fading southern belle…

John Malkovich also turns in a terrific performance…

[4] I think John Malkovich did an amazing job as Tom. His monologues at the beginning of every scene were especially well-done. He gave the movie a really dream-like quality.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

7 thoughts on ““The Glass Menagerie” (1987) starring Joanne Woodward, John Malkovich, & Karen Allen

  1. I’ve seen “The Glass Menagerie” but I couldn’t tell you which production anymore. What I always end up thinking about Tennessee Williams (and more as I grow older) is how emotionally overwrought his plays are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, from the bit I read about the author’s life, his family was V dramatic & also had psychological issues. I’m going to do a post on “Death of a Salesman” (Arthur Miller); that’s even more dramatic IMO. I didn’t see it before- so my first impression.

      Like

      • It definitely wasn’t only Williams. Also certainly applied to Miller, and also to Edward Albee and Eugene O’Neill. I can definitely see why people thought Pinter and Beckett were breaths of fresh air.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You have probably seen Richard Burton and Liz Tayler in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Talk about overwrought. However, a definite classic. That’s Albee.

        Liked by 1 person

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