David Mamet’s play was not an easy feat to adapt from the Broadway stage to film. The play, which takes place in the span of 24 hours and involves a handful of desperate real estate salesmen, was a particular subject that easily could have been off-putting to audiences despite the fact Glengarry Glen Ross won both the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. Director James Foley and screenwriter David Mamet both recognized that the only way for a movie adaptation to work was to allow its principle cast to lead the film. By giving each of the actors the ability to make the characters their own, it essentially gave the Glengarry Glen Ross movie a necessary Broadway feel.
Of a cast that was extraordinary in every way, it is Jack Lemmon who was given the chance to exhibit the most range out of the multiple-character plot. He stars as Shelley Levene, a salesman who hasn’t made an impactful sale in so long that he fears for his job, which he needs to keep to provide for his family. The stakes are raised even higher when corporate announces to all the real estate salesmen that the one salesman with the lowest sales at the end of the month will be fired. This causes Shelley to incorporate manipulative, borderline pathetic sales tactics in desperation to make a sale and make himself relevant again.
The true achievement in Jack Lemmon’s performance was his ability to get the audience to pity him instead of see him for the desperate individual that he is. In many regards, Lemmon was able to make the character sympathetic amidst a sea of masculinity from those around him which makes him look blatantly weak in comparison. Jack Lemmon crafts Shelley Levene as a man who knows that he is weak and is desperately trying to convince others that he isn’t. It’s a performance unlike anything Jack Lemmon ever did before since he typically offered roles of characters who were in control of their emotions and demeanor. As Shelley Levene, Jack Lemmon completely reversed how he had always represented himself on film and the effect was astounding.
In a strange twist of fate, despite being the obvious scene-stealer of Glengarry Glen Ross, Jack Lemmon got zero Oscar traction for his performance. Instead, Oscar focus went to Al Pacino for his showy performance as Ricky Roma. That being said, Al Pacino absolutely deserved his nomination for Glengarry Glen Ross, but Jack Lemmon did too. The Academy should have recognized two glowing performances from this film and double nominated in the supporting actor category.