Salesman (1969)

salesman poster 1969 movie
9.0 Overall Score

Interesting look into times past


Movie Info

Movie Name: Salesman

Studio: Maysles Films

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s): April 17, 1969

MPAA Rating: G

salesman bible salesman documentary

Let me set you up with some payments

Selling is tough business and selling religion can be tougher.  Paul “The Badger” Brennan, Charles “The Gipper” McDevitt, James “The Rabbit” Baker, and Raymond “The Bull” Martos are headed from New England to south Florida to sell Bibles.  Going door-to-door in poor neighborhoods with expensive Bibles with monthly payments, the salesmen are met with tough sales and no-goes as they struggle to meet their quotas.

Directed by Albert Maysles and David Maysles (with additional directing Charlotte Zwerin), Salesman is a documentary in the direct-cinema style.  The film was released to critical acclaim and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #122).

I liked the Maysles Brothers’ Grey Gardens and even the follow up sequel The Beales of Grey Gardens.  Their style of storytelling (aka letting the people just tell their story as they want) is a refreshing approach to documentaries that sometimes get too full of themselves…especially now through tight and flashy editing.

salesman james baker sales

The Man up there knows this Bible is a good investment

The film just shows the difficulty of the job.  Salesmen are given a list of prospective clients, go to the homes of the people, and try to sell them a Bible.  The Bibles aren’t just simple Bibles.  The American Bible Company releases are $49.95 and through inflation that is over $400.00 in today’s money (which is insane).  Trying to get people to commit to something like this feels almost criminal.

It is the fact that they are selling religion which feels like part of the twisted side of the film.  The salesmen push as hard as possible to get people to buy by suggesting borrowing money, long-term monthly payments, and preying on the women in the homes.  There are a couple of potential clients that don’t have English as their primarily language, and it feels like they are trying to con them…all in the name of God.  If you don’t invest in a Bible, you aren’t investing in your faith (even if you go to church, tithe, and pray).  It is a bit sick.

salesman paul brennan toy car documentary

I can’t sell Bibles…can I sell you a toy car?

The salesmen themselves are problematic in this sense.  They are tapping into the people’s faiths and their belief in what they are selling is questionable.  It appears that in general they are Christians, but it is a job to them.  They leave people’s homes frustrated and angry with them when they don’t buy.  They sometimes even swear and stuff…especially when espouse about the “Higher Power” that should compel the people to buy.

Salesman is an interesting documentary and a different approach to documentaries for the time it was made.  The movie though essentially frameless tries to tell a story and by focusing on the “bad luck” of Paul who is getting visibly frustrated throughout the documentary, but the film really doesn’t need a story.  It is a throwback to an old time and reminder that everyone has a story…and all stories can be compelling if told correctly.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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