“I’m here on a mission of mercy,” says Alec Baldwin’s character early on in Glengarry Glen Ross. But if there’s a defining aspect of his dubiously motivational seven-minute speech to a roomful of real-estate salesmen, it’s mercilessness. This grave and brutally hilarious showstopper, which gave an early glimpse into Baldwin’s true range, didn’t originally exist in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play; Mamet wrote it just for director James Foley’s 1992 film, which in retrospect seems unthinkable without it — and without Alec Baldwin.
Baldwin’s profane tirade of verbal abuse amounts to an extended cameo, but it’s also how the movie sets its stakes.
Sent by corporate honchos to clean house at a dreary office outpost, Baldwin’s hotshot fixer finds a group of desperate men hunched together on the precipice of personal and professional disaster. In addition to lethal linguistic weaponry, he carries some props in his fancy silver briefcase, like the brass balls he says it takes to sell real estate and the set of steak knives that’ll be second prize in this month’s sales contest. “Third prize is you’re fired.”
Baldwin’s profane tirade of verbal abuse amounts to an extended cameo, but it’s also how the movie sets its stakes. Reiterating the sad and bleakly funny suggestion that he is what most terrifies these shabby salesmen — and also what they most hope to become — Baldwin’s character distills Mamet’s unblinking vision of predatory capitalism run amok. Half drill sergeant, half preacher, all asshole, he’s the absolute embodiment of oily bombast. (Quite the contrast to Baldwin’s more sedate appearance on his new MSNBC show,Up Late.)
The scene is so delectable that it has spawned many parodies, most notably an inspired 2005 Saturday Night Live spoof, with Baldwin playing “Winter’s Breath, an elf from the home office” dispensing very tough love in Santa’s workshop.
His new show, Up Late With Alec Baldwin, airs Fridays on MSNBC at 10 p.m.
“I’ve read 25 scripts, and nothing is as good as this,” Baldwin reportedly told a pleading producer when, for a time, Glengarry’s funding wasn’t coming together. Arguably, no one in the cast of notables — including Alan Arkin, Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey — has been better than in this film. But for performance power per onscreen minute, Baldwin burns brightest.