Fredric March received his fifth and final Oscar nomination for portraying Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.
After just speaking of Stanley Kowalski it is interesting to jump to Willy Loman certainly two of the most famous leads of the modern theater. Where Marlon Brando would reprise his role, the original Willy, Lee J. Cobb did not, leaving March in the role. Also what should be noted is the original director of Streetcar Elia Kazan directed the film version, Kazan did not direct the film version of Death of a Salesman, even though he was the director of the original production of the play.
I think all these changes most certainly lead to this bizarre interpretation of both the play and the character that is found in this film. A film that the movie company had so little respect for they almost put a short film "Life of a Salesman" before the main film, to basically contradict everything the film was going to say before it said it. I think with that little piece of trivia, one can see why this film does not work at all, because it seems the people who made it had know idea what the play meant.
This is the most true because of the character of Willy Loman in this film, that is suppose to be a beaten down salesman, beaten down due to his failure to live up to the dream he made up for himself, as well as his disappointment in his son Biff's inability to do the same. In this film though I certainly felt he was on the end of his rope, but I felt what got him there was not so much the failure, but the fact that Willy is plainly insane, not just slowly losing it as the play seems to say, and he just continued to become even more insane as time went on, with the failure simply contributing to that.
Now I do not think the filmmakers meant this really, and the original play most certainly did not mean this, but it comes out this way because of the odd direction, and March's performance. March plays basically every scene as basically a manic insane man, who only comes down on occasion, but only for a short while. It is an odd performance most certainly because of this, and I do not think it is all March's fault since it is the film who always has him talking to himself out loud, thinking he is talking to someone.
I suppose one could say this is how March is trying to show how much of a defeated man Willy is, but even that would seem an odd way to show Willy's defeat. Also he basically plays Willy in this insane fashion in many of the past remembrance scenes as well. March still plays each of these scenes in too manic of a fashion, especially his scenes with his brother Ben. Willy sees Ben as successful, and wants to achieve in the same fashion. March though does not make it like this is an idea Willy has that is extremely important, but instead just a completely insane obsession.
March is an actor I do like, but here the direction makes him go off the deep end. Now I think this is quite the misinterpretation on March's part, as well as the directors. This is an incredibly hammy performance, but Willy here is basically insane, so the hamminess is not entirely misplaced. A misinterpretation that does not work, but I must say a misinterpretation that March is quite consistent about. He seems to be entirely insane, and March's moments of clarity such as his quiet talks with his wife, or his talk with Biff, after Biff sees Willy is having an affair are sort of well handled.
This is a performance I really do not know how to rate. I most certainly can't rate it highly because this is such an odd, and frankly incorrect way to play the part, but really the direction definitely wanted him to play this part in this way as well, so I almost want to say it is not entirely March's fault, they wanted him to play it insane so he did, I guess. I don't know really, his insanity is not exactly poorly done as it very well could have been, but it does work incredibly poorly for the story and the character. All I really can say about March is watch at least part of this one for yourself, it most certainly is something, that is for sure. I will say this is one of the hardest performances I ever have had to judge just due to the strangeness of the whole thing.