David Mamet’s 1992 film ‘The Water Engine’

“The Water Engine is an American historical drama television film directed by Steven Schachter and written by David Mamet, based on his 1977 play of the same name. The film stars Patti LuPone, William H. Macy, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, and Treat Williams. It was released on TNT on August 24, 1992.” – Wikipedia

Set in Chicago during the 1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, this is the most brilliantly written and haunting movie I have ever seen. The film was part of a TNT Screenworks series of dramas from widely known playwrights.

The protagonist is a struggling inventor who, in his off-work hours, creates an engine that runs on water. However, when he tries to patent it and figure out how to sell it, big industry moves in and stops the project, leaving Lang (Macy) and his invalid sister Rita (LuPone) as casualties along the road of thwarted possibilities. The irony of their plight–as the world is celebrating progress at the World’s Fair–drives the playwright’s intent into the viewers’ hearts like a sharp knife. Throughout the film, we hear “background” announcements from the public address system of the Century of Progress exhibition.

In his 1992 Washington Post review, Tom Shales wrote, “Mamet, who adapted his 1976 work for television, subtitled it ‘An American Fable,’ but ‘Anti-American Fable’ might be more accurate. It’s a bleak downer about a little man living in the Great Depression who invents an engine that needs only water as fuel and how the American industrial establishment rushes in to crush him under its mighty heel.”

The film isn’t listed in the TNT archive,  so the company’s rights must have been limited to the premier. That leaves us–apparently–with no TV channel or streaming service (that I can find) showing the film. Sad, because like the engine, the film is too good to lose.



2 thoughts on “David Mamet’s 1992 film ‘The Water Engine’

  1. How interesting. I imagine it has been, to all intents and purposes, withdrawn from circulation because it is too close to home. There have been rumours (over here, if not over there) of the big US car manufacturers buying up and burying means of propulsion that are not the internal combustion engine since ever since the ICE first went into production. Oddly, these stories haven’t been so common since US vehicle manufacturers have been flirting with electric cars. Conspiracy theories fascinate me. And I believe this is one of them.

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