Ken Tucker
July 20, 1990 AT 04:00 AM EDT

P.O.V.: Salesman

type
TV Show
Current Status
In Season
broadcaster
PBS
genre
Documentary

We gave it an A

The summer documentary series P.O.V. breaks with its policy of scheduling new works to present this amazing 1969 theatrical film, never before shown on television, about men who peddle Bibles door-to-door.

Salesman, directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, follows a quartet of Bible salesmen for six weeks, as the men knock on doors in Boston, attend a Chicago sales conference, and travel to Miami to ”open up a new territory.”

Shot in grainy black and white, Salesman conveys the soul-deadening drudgery of this sort of job — convincing people in lower-middle-class neighborhoods that they should buy an elaborate $49.95 Bible with, as the sales pitch goes, ”a plastic-and-nylon cover and color illustrations.” The salesmen are shown on the job and in their off-hours. We see them sharing tiny, grubby motel rooms and chain-smoking while making sarcastic comments about their customers, whom they consider beneath contempt.

Early on, the directors get past the easy irony of cynical men selling God’s word; the filmmakers delve deeper, refusing to dismiss the Bible sellers as bad guys. As Salesman proceeds, viewers will inevitably feel some degree of compassion for these overworked, underpaid fellows. A

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