Monday, March 21, 2011


How did this one escape me? While I've seen the film on the cable grid before, I actually never bothered to watch the 1987 drama "Ironweed" until this weekend.

And boy, should I have. Dunno how this one managed to escape me. It stars Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep and is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by William Kennedy.

It centers on the relationship of a homeless alcoholic couple: Francis, a washed up vagrant and Helen (Streep), a terminally ill woman during the Great Depression. Both Nicholson and Streep earned Oscar nominations for their roles. An added bonus? The film co-stars Tom Waits!!

The film (and book's) central protagonist is Francis Phelan, a boozy vagrant originally from Albany, New York, who walked out on his family after accidentally killing his infant son while he may have been drunk. "Ironweed" focuses on his return to Albany, and the narrative is fueled by hallucinations of the three people whom he killed in the past.

Here's the book's official description:

Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) is a washed-up baseball player who deserted his family back in the 1920s when he accidentally and drunkenly dropped his son and killed him. Since then, Phelan has been a bum, punishing himself.

Wandering into Albany, New York, Phelan seeks out his lover and drinking companion, Helen Archer (Meryl Streep). The two meet up in a mission managed by Reverend Chester (James Gammon), and later in Oscar Reo's (Fred Gwynne) gin mill. Over the next few days, Phelan takes a few minor jobs to support his habit, haunted by visions of his past.

A chance for a reconciliation with his wife Annie Phelan (Carroll Baker) is abandoned when a group of local vigilantes with baseball bats take it upon themselves to drive the homeless out of Albany.

The book snagged the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is the third book in Kennedy's Albany Cycle. It placed at No. 92 on the Modern Library list of the 100 Best Novels written in English in the 20th Century and is also included in the Western Canon of the critic Harold Bloom.

Many of William Joseph Kennedy's novels feature the interaction of members of the fictional Irish-American Phelan family and utilize incidents of Albany's history and the supernatural. Kennedy's works include The Ink Truck (1969), Legs (1975), Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978), Ironweed (1983) and Roscoe (2002).


  1. Great film. Never read the book,though.

  2. Ant, you *review* so damn swell. I saw this in the way back when and heartily agree with Mr Mammoth Brit Crime Fiction fellow up there -- but, tip o'the fedora to your flair - I'm putting it on the "queue again". Fred Gwynne too!

    I ever mention how professional your presentation is, sir?

    ~ Absolutely*Kate, knowin' when you're around it doesn't matter that you've been holed up in life's cave awhile. Talent needs its bites of balance buddy.

    PS ~ Like how you tumbled your tumblr too. I started up one in '08 and turned it full noir recently for books and writesite broadcasts ... momentum workin' doubletime is its own reward.

  3. The book is amazing. the movie is damn good. I saw it before, but it was on IFC this weekend, so I watched it again.
    Down and dirty...


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