The Iceman Cometh
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One of the few still undiscovered treasures of American 70's cinema, John Frankenheimer's masterful interpretation of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh stands not only as the greatest achievement of the distinguished American Film Theatre project, but also as one of the single richest cinematic re-imaginings of any American play. Near the end of his brilliant and varied career, director Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, The Train) singled out the little known Iceman as "the best creative experience I ever had." In the faded light of Harry Hope's 1912 New York skid row bar, a rag tag group of fallen men, each like a ghost haunting the wreckage of his own life, await the annual arrival of Hickey (Lee Marvin). This year, however, the charismatic Hickey brings not the usual rounds of drinks and pats on the back, but the unwelcome news that he's off the sauce for good and has come to persuade Hope's drunks to do the same. One by one, the regulars' booz-basted pipe dreams come under Hickey's leering microscope until finally the most shocking self-deception turns out to be Hickey's own. Academy Award winner Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives, A Star Is Born) leads an all-star dream cast in a final performance that the L.A. Times declared, "quite simply, perfect." Roger Ebert described Robert Ryan's (The Wild Bunch, The Dirty Dozen) characterization of Hickey's anarchist nemesis as "possibly the best of his distinguished career." But, Iceman belongs to Lee Marvin, stepping out of the tough guy roles that made him a star into a haunting portrayal of the madman that hides beneath the smiling face of the life of the party.
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Top customer reviews
Bradford DIllman and Jeff Bridges as two younger guys were quite good. Fredric March was excellent as Harry Hope. And Robert Ryan was probably the best Larry Slade ever.
To crown the work there is Lee Marvin as Hickey, the Iceman. If one watches the Lumet version with Robards as Hickey, one will see that Marvin and director John Frankenheimer designed the part differently. I don't want to give away the key to the play, and Marvin's masterful performance, but it has to do with the overall theme that the play is after: the madness of any hope of escaping from illusions. What Marvin does with that idea is really something. Especially in the anti climax of the play after he explains why he did away with his beloved wife.
Frankenheimer directed in a skilled and resourceful way, and the script is neatly pruned to four hours with an intermission. This version of the play did a lot to stir interest in The Iceman Cometh. It may be the best American play ever written.
With these resources, the themes of illusion and reality, self-delusion and self-knowledge, man's need for self espect when it is least deserving, are explored and analyzed with profound insight. In this Hell of darkness, the interplay of the characters choreographed by the quixotic Hickey strikes sparks of light that reveal more of the human condition than in a dozen lesser plays. O'Neills darkly eloquent dialogue contains many examples of poetry and wit as well as some mawkish passages that one can forgive in a work of this length. He allows the characters to be stripped of their illusions and finally, in a dramatic reversal, to joyfully cover their spiritual nakedness in the same tattered rags and carry on business as usual. In doing so, he reveals a level of craftsmanship and a knoweldge of human nature well beyond that found in most of his other plays, good though they are. He easily outclasses his achievement in "Long Day's Journey" which after all is a play about a single family. This play is about all mankind.
Thanks are due to those who put this disc together for the fascinating account of the all too short history of the American Film Theatre that comprises part of the bonus material.
I've seen it on stage, on TV, and on film. It matters. Take the time.