Death of a Salesman (1951 film)

Death of a Salesman is a 1951 American drama film adapted from the 1949 play of the same name by Arthur Miller. It was directed by László Benedek and written for the screen by Stanley Roberts. The film received many honors, including four Golden Globe Awards, the Volpi Cup and five Oscar nominations. Alex North, who wrote the music for the Broadway production, was one of the five Academy Award nominees for the film's musical score.[4]

Death of a Salesman
Death of a salesman 1951.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLászló Benedek
Produced byStanley Kramer
Screenplay byStanley Roberts
Story byArthur Miller (playwright)
Music byAlex North
CinematographyFranz Planer
Edited by
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • December 20, 1951 (1951-12-20)
Running time
115 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.2 million (US rental)[3]


Willy Loman has led a life consisting of 60 years of failure. Loman's wife supports him, but he soon begins to lose his grip on reality and slips between the past and the present, frantically trying to find where he went wrong.[2]


The cast consisted mainly of the Broadway cast, with the addition of Kevin McCarthy from the original London Cast. However, Fredric March replaced Broadway actor Lee J. Cobb after concerns arose over Cobb's alleged past with leftist politics.[2]

Actor/Actress Role
Fredric March Willy Loman
Mildred Dunnock Linda Loman
Kevin McCarthy Biff Loman
Cameron Mitchell Happy Loman
Howard Smith Charley
Royal Beal Ben
Don Keefer Bernard
Jesse White Stanley
Claire Carleton Miss Francis
David Alpert Howard Wagner

Career of a SalesmanEdit

Just before the film was about to be released, Arthur Miller threatened to sue Columbia Studios over the short that was to appear before Death of a Salesman.[5] This short film, Career of a Salesman, showed what the producers believed was a more typical American salesman, and was an attempt to defuse possible accusations that Death of a Salesman was an anti-American film.[5] Eventually, Columbia agreed to remove the 10-minute short from the film's theatrical run.[5]

Miller saw Career of a Salesman as an attack upon his work, proclaiming, "Why the hell did you make the picture if you're so ashamed of it? Why should anybody not get up and walk out of the theater if Death of a Salesman is so outmoded and pointless?"[5] He argued against the portrayal of the salesman profession as "a wonderful profession, that people thrived on it, and there were no problems at all."[6] Eventually, the very attitude that led Columbia to commission the intro film led to the failure of Death of a Salesman: Businessmen and other people in the political climate of the 1950s tried to distance themselves from a film depicting American failure.[2][5]


Benedek took great care in making the film a close transcription of the play.[1] In many places, the film uses Miller's lines verbatim, sometimes leaving out only small lines of dialogue.[1] However, the playwright claimed that the movie was ruined by the truncation of key scenes.[7] In fact, the playwright had no involvement with or control over the film.[6] Benedek also stressed the dreary, middle class setting of the film, using small rooms and gray shots.[1]


Though the film won over many film critics and received nominations for many awards, it was a box-office failure. The subject matter, the failure of the American dream, did not appeal to many of the era's moviegoers.[2] Miller hated the adaptation of his play.[5] He also claimed that, although he wrote the play cinematically, Benedek managed to "chop off almost every climax of the play as though with a lawnmower" and portray Loman as a lunatic rather than a victim.[5][6]

Restoration and home videoEdit

Death of a Salesman has been released on DVD format by Movies Unlimited.[8] It has also been made available on various streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video.[9]

In 2013, a digital restoration of the film was undertaken by Sony. The digital pictures were digitally restored, frame by frame, at Prasad Corporation to remove dirt, tears, scratches and other artifacts. The restoration was part of the Stanley Kramer 100-year celebration (Kramer would have been 100 years old on September 29, 2013).[10]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actor Fredric March Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Kevin McCarthy Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Mildred Dunnock Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Franz Planer Nominated
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Alex North Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Death of a Salesman Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Fredric March Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures László Benedek Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Fredric March Won
Best Director – Motion Picture László Benedek Won
Best Cinematography – Black and White Franz Planer Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Kevin McCarthy Won
National Board of Review Awards Top 10 Films Death of a Salesman Won
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion László Benedek Nominated
Best Actor Fredric March Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written Drama Stanley Roberts Nominated
Best Written Film Concerning American Scene Nominated

New York Times Critics' Pick

  • Top 1,000


  1. ^ a b c d Crowther, Bosley (December 21, 1951). "The Angel with the Trumpet (1950): THE SCREEN: FOUR NEW MOVIES OPEN; 'Death of a Salesman,' With Fredric March and Mildred Dunnock, at Victoria". The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2009. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e Eder, Bruce. "Death of a Salesman". AllMovie. Retrieved March 12, 2009.
  3. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  4. ^ "Alex North, a Film Composer, 80; Had 40-Year Hollywood Career". The New York Times. September 11, 2001. Retrieved March 13, 2009. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Kerrane, Kevin (September 1, 2004). "Arthur Miller vs. Columbia Pictures: the strange case of Career of a Salesman". Journal of American Culture. Blackwell Publishing. Archived from the original on June 14, 2009. Retrieved March 13, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c Solman, Paul (1999). "AN AMERICAN CLASSIC (Interview with Arthur Miller)". PBS. Retrieved March 13, 2009. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  7. ^ Shewwy, Don (September 15, 2008). "TV'S CUSTOM-TAILORED 'SALESMAN'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2009. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  8. ^ "Death of a Salesman". Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  9. ^ "Death of a Salesman (1951)". Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  10. ^, Filmmaker Stanley Kramer's Legacy to Be Remembered with Centennial Celebration, The Hollywood Reporter, by Bryn Elise Sandberg, August 8, 2013

External linksEdit