Salesman (1968)

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This picture about traveling Bible salesmen had me thanking God I didn’t go into retail. At least not the kind in Salesman: you’re separated from your family, working out of shared hotel rooms, trying to convince poor Catholics they need to own a $50 (or, inflation adjusted, $300) Bible.

Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles offer little gloss or commentary on the proceedings while capturing this day-to-day, door-to-door existence. They follow four salesmen, but return most frequently to one of the older members of the brigade, Paul “The Badger” Brennan, who goes about his job humming “If I Were A Rich Man.” If only; at this late stage of his career, unable to move his merchandise, Brennan is like a trapeze artist working without the benefit of a net whose hands have started to cramp on him. What Brennan does is undeniably unsavory – and to some degree the fact that the Maysles stood by and watched him do it is too – but his situation is so dire and the odds he faces so long that we can’t help but sympathize. There’s no joy in this hustle, only the desperation of a dead-ended American dream. For added value, watch back-to-back with an episode of the TV series Mad Men.


Matt Singer covers the world of film for the Independent Film Channel. He's also a regular contributor to their website, IFC.com. His personal blog is Termite Art. More from this author →