Paul Newman’s adaptation of The Glass Menagerie is a reverent record of Tennessee William’s 1954 dream play, and one watches with a kind of distant dreaminess rather than an intense emotional involvement. It’s a play of stunning language and brilliant performances creating living nightmares well defined by Newman’s direction.
In this dreamscape Amanda (Joanne Woodward) is the center of a universe of her own making and her children are satellites. But she is every overbearing mother more than a specific character, and she and her children are drawn in broad strokes and dark colors that keep them at a distance and contain their emotional impact.
Newman has heightened this impression by framing the action at the beginning and the end with Tom (John Malkovich) returning years later to look back at the wreck of his life. Smack in the middle of Depression America, he, too, is any man who longs to escape the banality of his life and demands of his mother.
But the greater victim n this world is his crippled sister Laura (Karen Allen) who is doomed to live in perpetual waiting for a gentleman caller who will never come, and whose life is worthless because of it.
Woodward is a constantly moving center of nervous neurotic energy with her active hands and darting eyes always seeming to be reaching out for something to grab on to.