Glengarry Glen Ross Summary
So, you missed out on the 1980s. For many reasons, that's a bummer. There was Galaga, The Cosby Show, New Order, bizarre fashion choices, and a little film known called The Empire Strikes Back. There was also a perceived culture of corporate greed. That's where Glengarry Glen Ross comes in.
A group of middle-aged salesmen (yep, they're all men) work together in the same Chicago real estate office. On the surface they might pretend to be friends and colleagues, but it's every man for himself out there. There's a sales contest going on, and the winner—the guy who closes (or completes) the most sales—gets a new car. Oh yeah—and the losers get fired. The problem is, these guys all rely on premium leads to find the best people to try to sell to, and the top guys on the board get the best leads. This means if you're low down, you really don't have much hope for moving up.
The men all react differently to the situation, but one of them (Moss) has an idea that someone should strike back at the big bosses—the guys who control the leads. Moss thinks someone should break into the office, steal the leads, and sell them to a guy who is willing to pay good money for them.
Wouldn't you know it? Someone breaks into the office and steals the leads. The cops show up, and slowly we discover that Levene, a salesman in decline, is the guilty party.
Act 1, Scene 1
- Nothing says battle of wills quite like lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Okay, maybe it's not the typical setting for two opposing forces to meet, but that's where we start. Levene and Williamson sit at a booth, talking. Get used to talking—it's kind of what Mamet is about.
- Levene is a salesman, and Williamson is the office manager and in charge of giving out the leads.
- Luck hasn't been on Levene's side as of late, and he can't seem to close any deals. But he recounts his past glories to Williamson to demonstrate that he's still a closer.
- Talk all you want Levene, Williamson's not buying it. Williamson tells Levene he's out—if he can't make sales and get on the board, he's going to lose his job.
- Desperate times call for desperate measures. Levene begs Williamson to give him the "good leads," even offering Williamson a 10% cut of his sales if Williamson will help him out.
- Williamson wants 20%. Oh—and he wants fifty bucks a lead.
- Remember that thing about desperate times that we just talked about? Yep, Levene eventually agrees.
- Of course, Williamson isn't one for playing games, and he wants $100 for two premium leads on the spot. Levene doesn't have the money; Williamson backs out of the deal (this won't be the first time Williamson backs out of a deal with Levene).
- If you can't get the good stuff, you got to get something right? Levene asks for "B" leads. They might not be any good, but they're better than nothing.
- The two head out of the restaurant. Levene has conveniently left his wallet at the hotel.
Act 1, Scene 2
- Back at the Chinese restaurant, but this time Moss and Aaronow are there. They're both real estate salesmen.
- You know the guy who acts like he knows everything and kind of just talks to hear the sound of his own voice? Well, that guy is Moss. At least that's how he comes off at first. He gives Aaronow advice about who not to sell to, and most of his advice is racist (in fact, some of it was so racist that Mamet changed it for the 2010 Broadway revival).
- The two men talk about the pressure of the contest—they know they have to rank high on the board or they're out. They're both tired of it.
- Moss would have Aaronow believe that the grass is greener on the other side (isn't it always?), and it turns out that Moss knows a guy—Jerry Graff—who's doing very well for himself on his own. A guy like Graff might even need guys like Moss and Aaronow to come work for him.
- What would it take for a guy like Graff to hire guys like Moss and Aaronow? So glad you asked. Moss suggests that someone could (you know, hypothetically speaking) break into the office, steal the premium leads, and sell them to Graff. Then Graff would hire them.
- That Moss is a tricky one though, and soon it's clear that he's not speaking hypothetically. More importantly, he says that Aaronow needs to the one to break into the office. Aaronow argues—he's confused and a little upset by all this.
- Moss drops the bomb: Even if Aaronow says no, Moss will still make sure that Aaronow takes the blame when the robbery goes down. Why? Well, because Aaronow listened. Yep, that's the kind of guy Moss is. He'll tell you his idea, demand you act, and then tell you he'll rat you out if you don't go along with it. Classy.
Act 1, Scene 3
- Quick—guess where we are. If you said the Chinese restaurant, you are absolutely right. Go ahead and give yourself a shiny little gold star sticker.
- This time though, it's Ricky Roma talking to a guy named Lingk, who's sitting at the booth next to him.
- While this scene is technically comprised of two people, it's basically a Roma monologue. Roma talks and talks and talks about everything: the nature of life, decisions we make, women he's been with, the best meals he's ever had. Roma is smooth. Really smooth.
- Eventually Roma brings up some property he's selling. Maybe Lingk will like it, maybe not—it doesn't even matter. They're just two guys talking, right?
- Forget the Chinese restaurant—that's like, so Act 1.
- Act 2—which is just one long scene—takes place in the real estate office the morning after all those restaurant scenes.
- Remember that scenario Moss laid out—the one about how someone should break into the office and steal the good leads? Well, that went down.
- A cop named Baylen steps out of the back office; he's going to question all of the guys.
- Roma starts to freak out, because he thinks the latest contracts got stolen. Turns out, he closed the deal with that guy in the restaurant, and that deal put him over the top on the sales leader board. He's owed a shiny new Cadillac and about twelve grand, and he is not cool with any of that being in jeopardy.
- Williamson assures Roma everything is okay with the latest contract, saying that it's already been filed; then he tells Roma to get out there and sell. The phones have been stolen and the good leads have been stolen, so Roma isn't too eager to hit the pavement with the old, bad leads.
- Poor gullible (lovable?) Aaronow fears the cops. Roma talks him down and says Aaronow's got nothing to fear, because he didn't do anything. Remember, though—Roma doesn't know about Aaronow's conversation with Moss.
- Williamson offers up some terrible leads, angering Roma more, because Roma is the kind of guy who gets angry a lot.
- Levene bursts in like a new man. Turns out, it's not even noon and he's already made an $80,000 sale. The guy's luck has changed, and he's feeling it—he wants more leads, he wants to buy everyone lunch, he wants his name up on the board.
- Levene's joy spreads to Roma, and the two talk about the glory of the sale. Levene closed the deal with two people who are notoriously unclosable (okay, so that's not a real word, but you get the idea).
- What's the one thing guaranteed to ruin the newly joyous mood? Moss. Yeah, that guy is never happy. He comes out of the back office enraged by how the cop has just treated him. He takes shots at Levene and Roma, complains about the job, and debates whether or not he should just go home or go out and try to sell. He decides on going home to Wisconsin, and with that he leaves, and we never see him again.
- No phones, no leads. It's the perfect time to just hang out and talk—Mamet style. Levene regales Roma with more details about the incredible sale he made. Roma tells Levene that he always looked up to him, and would love to partner up with him (pro tip: do not trust anything Roma says).
- Feeling all chummy, Roma and Levene start berating Williamson. It's clear they have no respect for this guy.
- The two salesmen talk about grabbing some food or coffee at—you guessed it—the Chinese restaurant.
- Alas, the restaurant is not to be, because Lingk (the guy Roma closed the deal with the night before) shows up.
- Okay, you have to hand it to Roma—dude sees what's coming from a mile away. Before Lingk can get a word out, Roma tells Levene to pose as a big time client. When Lingk enters, Roma is making a fake deal with his fake client played brilliantly by Levene.
- Barely able to get a word in, Lingk finally gets out that he talked things over with his wife, and his wife will not allow him to make the deal; he has to cancel the sale. He cites legal rights and things to make his case.
- Does he really think some legal mumbo jumbo is going to scare Roma? This guy is way too good at his job for that. He assures Lingk that the contract hasn't been filed, and lets him know that they have three days to cancel it after it's filed, so why don't they talk it over a little more. Problem is, Roma is really busy with his bigwig client (a.k.a. Levene) right now, so it will have to be in a couple of days. See what Roma's doing there? They call that pulling a fast one in the biz.
- Tension is high, but here comes Aaronow, fresh from his back office chat with Baylen, who he feels beat him up in there. Did he do it? Is he the one who stole the leads? We still don't know.
- Like some sort of magician or wizard or used car salesman, Roma continues to try to bewilder Lingk into not cancelling the sale. He might almost have him too, but…
- Williamson enters. Ah—you just know things are going to go wrong when that guy is on the stage.
- Not knowing the score, Williamson tells Lingk not to worry. He tells him the contract was filed and the check was cashed the night before, and that everything is okay.
- Finally, Lingk figures out what's going on, and flees like prey running away from a predator. He tells Roma not to follow.
- Okay, Mamet doesn't give us a break in this scene, but let's take one anyway, because the truth is about to get dropped on us in a big way. Before that happens, you can check out this short doc on Great White Sharks to get an idea of how Lingk might view Roma.
- Okay, we're back. Lingk is gone, and after he hurls insults at Williamson for a while, Roma heads to the inner office to talk with the cop.
- Levene starts verbally abusing Williamson as he is wont to do, at one point saying, "You're going to make something up, be sure it will help or keep your mouth shut." (2.1.1017-1019) No big deal, right?
- Wrong. It's a really big deal, because Williamson responds with, "How do you know I made it up?" (2.1.1022)
- Let's break this down, because it can get a little confusing, like an abstract painting or the choice to make a fourth Indiana Jones movie. It turns out that Williamson was lying to Lingk and Roma—the contract hadn't been filed and the check hadn't been cashed. Normally Williamson would have done it, but he just didn't get it done the night before… and the only way someone could know that the contract and check were still sitting on Williamson's desk was if that someone had broken into the office and seen them.
- Boom—Levene did it. Levene is the thief. On top of that, Williamson now tells him that that $80,000 deal he thinks he just closed didn't go through. Williamson checked with the bank, and the check is no good.
- Not wanting to be entirely evil, Williamson says he'll let Levene off the hook if he tells him what he did with the leads when he stole them.
- Levene takes the bait. He admits he stole them to sell to Jerry Graff, and he sells Moss out in the process (it seems Aaronow wasn't the only one Moss talked to).
- Dark times are coming for old Shelly Levene, as Williamson instantly goes back on the deal and tells him to come talk to him and the cop in the office.
- Remember though, desperation will make a man do some things he doesn't want to do: Levene offers Williamson a fifty percent cut of every sale he'll ever make with the office.
- Turns out, Williamson can't stand Levene, so no deal will be made. It's time for Shelly to tell his tale to the police.
- Roma re-enters as Levene— defeated and unable to say any great last words—is pushed into the back office.
- Before all is said and done, though, we get a nice little look into the mind of Roma. He doesn't know what's gone down, but this is what he shares with Williamson. Remember how he said he'd like to work with Levene? This was his idea of partnership: "My stuff is mine, his stuff is ours. I'm taking half his commissions—now, you work it out" (2.1.1238-1240)
- Mamet wraps things up beautifully with Aaronow asking if the leads have come in, and Roma saying he'll be at the restaurant.