Glengarry Dogs

Shelley tries to persuade Williamson, while Mr. White and Mr. Pink have troubles of their own.

Time for the smackdown of the century (well, the late 20th century, anyway): 1992 Guy-movie titans Glengarry Glen Ross vs. Reservoir Dogs.

Back in 1992 I jokingly referred to Reservoir Dogs as Glengarry Glen Ross with guns, but now that I examine both films, I was closer to the mark than I suspected.

1. Both films are about “a bunch of guys” who are involved in a not-quite-legal enterprise.  One group sells Florida swampland to rubes, the other robs a jewelry store.

2. Both films deal with “manly” issues of responsibility, trust, betrayal, identity and “work” as a defining trait.

3. Both films revolve around a criminal act we never see happen.  One has an office robbery, the other has the jewelry-store robbery.

4. Both films deftly shift points-of-view to keep up the supense of “whodunit.”  In Glengarry it’s “who robbed the office,” in Dogs it’s “who’s the cop?”

5. Both films refuse the audience the pleasure of a protagonist, a hero, or even a “central character.”

6. Both film have a central location where the climax of the narrative takes place, which makes the movie feel like a filmed play.  Glengarry has the real-estate office, Dogs has the mortuary warehouse.

Now then.  One would say that Dogs is not structured the same way as Glengarry, but look at what Tarantino has done.

Here is the narrative of Reservoir Dogs laid out in chronological order (spoiler alert):

1. Joe Cabot wants to rob a jewelry store.
2. He gets his gang of men together.  We meet them one by one.
3. The Cops find out about the robbery and plan to stop Joe and his gang.
4. The Cops get Tim Roth to go undercover.
5. Tim Roth practices his “story” that will get him credibility with the gang.
6. He tries it out: it works!
7. Tim Roth hangs out with the gang before the job.
8. The morning of the job, the gang goes to a coffee shop.  Here, they discuss Madonna and how much to tip a waitress.
9. The job happens.  Something goes wrong.  We don’t see what.
10. Afterthe job, everyone high-tails it back to the rendevous point
11. Everybody sooner or later makes it back to the rendevous point and hilarity ensues.

Everything after this is one full hour of the movie.  The rest of it is backstory.

Tarantino could have put the movie together this way, but look what happens.  You know who the mole is from the very beginning, there’s no mystery as to “what happened at the jewelry store,” and only mild suspense for about ten minutes where Tim Roth is hanging out with the gang and they don’t know he’s a cop.  And then he would have gotten to the rendevous point, at which point he’s got an hour of movie left and one location to shoot it in.

Which, strangely, is exactly what happens in Glengarry Glen Ross.  There is the first forty-five minutes of the movie, which chops up, expands upon, and moves around the first act of the play very nicely, and then there is the last 50 minutes of the movie, where we’re stuck in that real-estate office and might as well be watching a play.  A Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, but a play nonetheless.

Just think of the movie we could have had, oh so very easily, if Mamet had Tarantino-ized his script (again, spoiler alert).  What if Glengarry began with Jack Lemmon walking out ot the Nyborg’s house, having just closed his deal with them, getting in his car and heading over to the office, only to find that the place had been broken into.

Then, we could have cut to Al Pacino hustling Jonathan Pryce the evening before, stopping to wink at Ed Harris, who’s in the middle of a conversation with Alan Arkin.  Then we could cut to Kevin Spacey having a conversation with Alec Baldwin while they’re waiting for the guys to show up for the sales conference.  Then we could cut back to the next day, and there’s Kevin again having to deal with the police and Mitch and Murray because the place has been ripped off.  Then we could cut to Jack Lemmon, the night before, trying to get his daughter on the phone at the hospital.  Then we could go back to the big scene with Alec Baldwin doing his great speech, then back to Al hustling Jonathan, and so on.

It would have been a little “artier,” but jeez, the thing is already based on a play, how much artier could a movie be in 1992?  It would have made it all the way to being a “real movie,” instead of half of one.

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of the great American plays of the 20th century and my second-favorite play ever written (#1 would be Endgame).  But I’m afraid that in this contest, Tarantino and his time-shuffling gimmick takes the screenplay prize. hit counter html code


31 Responses to “Glengarry Dogs”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    I don’t know, I definitely thought of Tim Roth as the protagonist of Reservoir Dogs, even if it’s not obvious right out the gate.

    Also, Pacino manages to get Jonathan Pryce’s ear… So there’s that.

    • Todd says:

      Well, McKee says that Joe Cabot is the protagonist in Reservoir Dogs, as he is the character who sets events in motion. That would make Tim Roth the antagonist, as he is the force arrayed against the protagonist.

      Myself, I think of Mr. White as the protagonist, a simple, honest man trying to do a good job by his code, and Mr. Orange as the antagonist.

      Mamet insists upon calling Glengarry a “gang comedy” along the lines of Detective Story (which became Barney Miller on TV), and I see Dogs in that vein too. There is no protagonist or antagonist in either work, it’s about the group.

      But that’s why Mamet gets the Pulitzer, McKee gets played by Brian Cox and I’m sitting in my office writing a blog.

      • greyaenigma says:

        McKee’s seems like a tricky donkey to pin a tail on. But that logic, Sauron could be considered the protagonist of Lord of the Rings. Or at least Bilbo. And heck, that makes Braniac the protagonist of most of the Superman versions.

        I can see your argument about Mr. White, although the antagonist relationship seems a little muddy. And I’ll buy into the stories being more about the ensemble than a single protagonist. It’s probably human nature to try and identify a protagonist even if there isn’t a clear one. (See that ant there? He’s my favorite.)

        And I’m sitting my my office commenting on someone else’s blog.

        • schwa242 says:

          And heck, that makes Braniac the protagonist of most of the Superman versions.

          Going by the logic that whoever sets things in motion is the protagonist, the supervillain(s) would be the protagonist(s) in just about any superhero story, as they are the ones who do just that. Superheroes generally react to situations… bank robberies, world domination attempts, etc.

          • Todd says:

            Hollywood believes, not without reason, that stories with “active” protagonists are more popular than stories with “passive” protagonists.

            So yes, it becomes a problem when your “superhero” is an essentially reactive role. Look at Batman. There’s always some costumed freak causing trouble and Batman has to respond to them. That may be why no one wants to play Batman; the villains get all the good lines, plus they’re the ones driving the story. Batman’s not a hero, he’s a reactionary. Same goes for James Bond.

            You could make the case that Batman Begins breaks this trend and improves on it, as Bruce Wayne is definitely the protagonist of the story, who sets events in motion by becoming a costumed vigilante. The villains, then, are responding to Batman and upping the ante, not the other way around.

            The #1 question for every screenwriter is: “What does the protagonist want?”
            In Superman Returns (spoiler alert) Superman wants to belong to a family. Lex Luthor wants to destroy the world for personal gain. These two wants collide in a, um, convenient way, creating a conflict. But Bryan Singer and co., I’m sure, thought about this stuff for a long time while putting the script together.

      • You know, when I first saw Glengarry I thought “this just seems like a play” (I was 20, in New Jersey–what did I know of Pulitzer-winning theater?) and was mildly disappointed as a result. Now that I’ve been loving the movie for over ten years and have memorized every word, I love it more for feeling like a play because that’s just one more aspect of the film that separates it from all the other films, you know? Though your Tarrantino cut-up technique is interesting and all, Reservoir Dogs is really all about being a film and Glengarry is all about characters and dialogue. Sure, Reservoir Dogs might think it’s all about characters, but only in the most, excuse the expression, comic book way. I would go so far as to say it needed the non-linear trickery to obfuscate its basicness.

        Side note: remember all the hullabaloo about the hitmen talking about Madonna, like that was the new and exciting thing? Remember Tarrantino getting hired to script doctor one of those submarine movies and put in a conversation about the Silver Surfer? Oh, those heady, free-wheeling 90’s!

        Additional side note: I loved Barney Miller. When all the other kids were watching C.H.iP.s I was groovin’ on Dietrich’s zen detective stylings. Where’s THAT classic 70’s TV series revived as a 00’s major motion picture?! Get on that script, Alcott. I’m sure you could get Ferrell, Stiller, Vaughn, the Wilson brothers, Carrell and Colbert to jump on that one in a heartbeat.

        • Todd says:

          I would go so far as to say it needed the non-linear trickery to obfuscate its basicness.

          I’m not sure how basic it is; I would say it needs the non-linear trickery to obfuscate its lack of plot.

          Tarantino has one simple idea for Dogs, which is to make a crime movie where we see every single goddamn thing about the criminals except the actual crime. Take a heist movie like Ocean’s 11, where every single scene, including the character beats, are all about the planning and execution of the heist. In Dogs, the guys hang out, talk about this and that, all without ever getting to know each other (which is the central plot point, and the reason it continues to resonate). That guy sitting next to you, whether it’s in the foxhole, the cubicle, the real-estate office or the car outside the jewelry store, who is that guy, really? Is he your friend or your enemy? When the chips are down, will he give you a hand or turn you over to the authorities? That’s what Dogs is about.

          (Oddly enough, this was also the original “point” of William Goldman’s script for Butch Cassidy. He thought that the story of two guys travelling together through the Old West, alone and isolated, with only each other to depend upon for their very lives, would make a great existentialist drama about the impossibility of knowing another person. Unsurprisingly, that part of the script got lost somewhere on the way to production. But he doesn’t seem bitter about it.)

          Remember Tarrantino getting hired to script doctor one of those submarine movies and put in a conversation about the Silver Surfer?

          That scene in Crimson Tide perfectly fits the metaphor “sore thumb.”

          I’m sure you could get Ferrell, Stiller, Vaughn, the Wilson brothers, Carrell and Colbert to jump on [a Barney Miller film adaptation] in a heartbeat.

          Yes, but who in the Ron Glass and Jack Soo parts? Not to mention Abe Vigoda and the great James Gregory.

          When I think of Barney Miller, two pieces of dialogue stick out.

          1. Ron Glass on his financial picture: “Ten years ago a friend of mine asked me to invest in Xerox. I said ‘hey, what do we photocopies for? We’ve got carbon paper.'”

          2. Jack Soo on the Asian immigrant experience: “When your grandparents came to America, the first thing they saw was the Statue of Liberty. When my grandparents came to America, the first thing they saw was Alcatraz.”

          Steve Landesburg was great on that show. Whatever happened to him? Or any of them, for that matter?

          • Steve Landesburg was great on that show. Whatever happened to him? Or any of them, for that matter?

            A quick scan of reveals many of them continued to work, though I’ll be damned if I’ve seen a single one of them (except maybe the still-not-dead Abe Vigoda) in anything. Surprisingly enough, Landesberg has apparently done some voice work for my colleagues over at Harvey Birdman, Attourney At Law (I wish I’d thought of that). But what imdb does NOT document is a comedy/variety TV special I vaguely recall watching as a kid. Landesberg was the host–it was his star vehicle–and the whole premise seemed to be mocking the fact that the soft-spoken, mellow actor was an implausible choice to have his own comedy/variety special, and the comedy/variety special format in general.

  2. rennameeks says:

    And this is why we love Quentin Tarantino.

    It’s tempting to cut up a copy of Glengarry and see if it works when recut in the way you said, all without changing a single line of dialogue.

    • Todd says:

      I’m sure it could be easily accomplished with iMovie.


      • popebuck1 says:

        I see this starting a whole new genre: Bootleg Movie Mash-Ups. (Though I guess the whole “Wizard of Oz”/”Dark Side of the Moon” thing already kicked that genre off.)

        • greyaenigma says:

          “So there’s this guy. He’s a regular sales machine. All day, all night. Sales sales sales sales sales sales.”
          “How many sales is that?”
          “A lot.”

        • Anonymous says:

          I see this starting a whole new genre: Bootleg Movie Mash-Ups.

          I think The Phantom Menace re-cut got that started a few years ago. Lots of people re-edit movies online now (illegally, I might add).

          • rennameeks says:

            Yep, that’s the first Internet instance of this happening that I remember hearing about.

            I forget which well-known director used to do the same thing with old movies he had access to (on 8mm, IIRC), but this is not the first time such things have happened. However, it does seem to be the first time that such a large number of people has the resources to experiment in this area.

            Illegal? Yes. Fascinating? Definitely.

  3. urbaniak says:

    As you know, you haven’t really seen “Glenngarry Glen Ross” until you’ve seen it in French.

    (Todd Alcott and I saw a production in Paris.)

    • Todd says:

      You haven’t really seen “Glenngarry Glen Ross” until you’ve seen it in French.

      Maybe they should have filmed it in French. With Depardieu as Roma, Daniel Autuiel as Moss, Yves Montand as Levine.

    • Todd says:

      For those interested, here is a sample of the French translation of Glengarry. I have selected the moment where Linck flees in horror and Roma turns to tell off Williamson. That’s the speech that begins: “You stupid cunt.”

      ROMA (a Williamson). Tu es le dernier des cons. Toi, Williamson…c’est a toi que je parle, tete de merde… Tu viens de me couter six mille dollars. (Pause.) Et une Cadillac. Exactement. Qu’est-ce que tu bas faire pour ca, trou du cul. Espece de merde. Ou tu as appris ton metier. Le dernier des cons. Idiot. Qui t’a dit un jour que tu pouvais travailler avec des hommes.

      BAYLEN. Est-ce que je pourrais…

      ROMA. C’est moi qui vais avoir ton boulot, tete de merde. Je vais aller en ville causer avec Mitch et Murray, et j’irai voir Lemkin. Je m’en fous de savoir qui et ton parrain, qui tu as dans tes relations, a qui tu tailles des pipes. Tu seras vire, je te le jure, tu seras…

      BAYLEN. Hey, camarade, finissons-en.

      ROMA. Tout le monde dans ce bureau travaille avec ce qu’il a. (A Baylen.) Je suis a vous dans une seconde. (A Williamson.) On t’a engage ici pour que tu nous aides, ca te parait clair? Pour nous aider. Pas pour nous foutre dedans…pour aider des hommes qui sortent de ce bureau afin d’essayer de gagner leur vie. Pede. Gigolo…J’ai pas fini. J’espere que c’est toi qui as fai sauter la serrure et que je pourrai dire a notre ami quelque chose qui l’aiders a t’attraper. (Il se met a marcher dans la piece.) Je vais t’apprendre la regle de base ouvrir la bouche avant d’avoir evalue l’enjeu. (Pause.) Petit con. (Roma entre dans la piece arriere. Levene etait sorti pendant la diatribe et etait alle s’asseoir au fond pour ecouter.)

      LEVENE. Tu es une tete de merde Williamson…

      I was unsure if the French version of of “cunt” and “fuck” and “shithead” would carry the weight on the 2000 French stage as they did on Broadway in 1983, but there was the same audible gasp from the audience in Paris (it was a huge house too, at least 600 people in a Broadway-sized house) as there was in New York when I saw Joe Mantegna do this speech.

      (Completely off-topic: I was thinking about the night that Mr. Urbaniak and I saw this show the other night while watching Band of Outsiders. There’s a scene where the two lovers trot down a Metro staircase in St. Germain-des-Pres, and it’s the exact same staircase that Mr. Urbaniak and I walked down on our way to Champs-Elysee to get to the production of Glengarry. It’s not a shocking fact that the staircase is still there, but I was surprised that I was able to recognize it. Same thing happens to me when I recognize New York subway stations from New York pictures of the 1970s.)

      (Translation by Pierre Laville, copyright (c) 1986 Actes Sud-Papiers)

  4. urbaniak says:

    More about seeing Mamet in Paris with Todd: “Glengarry” was playing in rep with “American Buffalo.” We saw “Buffalo” first. It was fascinating to see French actors playing guys from Chicago. I had never been aware before of how differently French and American men move. The guys on stage in the Parisian “Buffalo” couldn’t help but have a kind of fluid Frenchness. There was a moment where after Teach hits Bobby he apologizes and the actor playing Teach gave the actor playing Bobby what I can only describe as a Gallic hug. It was not a slappy American guy hug.

    One of the weirdest moments was during that same scene. Bobby is on the floor after being hit and Teach is taunting him. French Teach began to menacingly hum a tune to French Bobby, stomping his feet in rhythm to the song. This was the actor’s or director’s choice (the script doesn’t say “Teach hums menacingly”) but the bizarre thing was that French Teach was humming…”Dixie.”

    “Da-DAH-da-dah-dah-dah-dah-DAH-DUH-DAH-DUH..” etc.

    A French guy playing a Chicagoan was humming “Dixie.” Now, as an American I ask you: who the hell hums “Dixie?” Ever? Even Southern people don’t hum “Dixie.” It was a French actor’s idea of what an American might hum. I turned to Todd and said “What are they gonna sing in ‘Glengarry?’ The Star Spangled Banner?”

    Next night we see “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Similar experience. The actors are ineffably French. The guy playing Roma appeared to be channeling Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy’s body language. (Only the actor playing Williamson came off as genuinely American.) The whole thing had the same weird effect of French guys approximating American behavior. (It goes without saying that the couple times I have played Frenchmen on stage I’m sure I would have appeared similarly “off” to French eyes.)

    Anyway, we’re at the last scene of the play. No one has hummed “Dixie.” As fans of “Glengarry Glen Ross” know, it ends thusly:

    Aaronow: God I hate this job.
    Roma: (overlapping) I’ll be at the restaurant.

    Roma makes for the door. Blackout.

    So French Aaronow says his line, French Roma says his and as Roma is crosses the stage towards the door right before the lights fade, he begins snapping his fingers and whistling…THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER.

    My hand to God.

    • Todd says:

      I will “vouch” for Lord Ankles.

      What, doesn’t every American man snap his fingers and whistle “The Star Spangled Banner” when he’s heading out the door to go to the Chinese restaurant down the street?