John Frankenheimer was a great director, 'Birdman of Alcatraz', 'Seven Days in May' and 'The Train' are all fabulous films and 'The Manchurian Candidate' is a masterpiece. Had no doubt that he would be well suited for this adaptation of 'The Iceman Cometh'. Which has all the attributes that 'A Long Day's Journey into Night', also written by one of the all time great American playwrights Eugene O'Neill, has and has what makes that play so powerful. The cast is a talented one too, with Fredric March and Robert Ryan in their last roles particularly grabbing the attention.
Of the thirteen films making up the interesting and ambitious but uneven American Film Theatre series from the early 70s, 1973's 'The Iceman Cometh' is easily one of the best and to me one of the few "great" ones of the series. Recently (well a couple of months ago) saw the 1962 film version of 'A Long Day's Journey into Night', which bowled me over, 'The Iceman Cometh' while not quite as great is very nearly on that film's level in my view. The cast are on top form and well served by O'Neill's masterful character writing and development, it's intelligently directed and is dramatically powerful. It is very faithful to the play, like almost all the adaptations in the American Film Theatre series are, without being overly so.
If you aren't too fond of a lot of talk, a lack of "likeable" characters, deliberate pacing and long lengths 'The Iceman Cometh' (both play and film) may not be your thing. If you don't mind slow pacing, love psychologically fascinating and masterfully developed characters and complex emotions, this will be right up your street. It certainly was mine, and being already familiar with the play and 'A Long Day's Journey into Night' helped a lot.
Did find the opening scene a little too darkly lit perhaps and on the sluggish side.
'The Iceman Cometh' however is otherwise very handsomely and atmospherically shot film, like all Frankenheimer's films. The photography and editing may not be as inventive as those for 'The Train' for instance, but this is not the kind of film, but the film doesn't feel like a filmed play and one of the few films in the series to not feel like that. Frankenheimer directs splendidly, pace-wise it's fluent, it captures the mood beautifully, it's subtle and it is very true in spirit to the play without being over-conventional.
Furthermore, the dialogue is still emotionally and psychologically powerful. There is a lot of talk, but it is talk that all feels crucial to the characters and their situations without feeling rambling or too heavy in exposition. The story is deliberately paced but atmosphere-wise it blisters with intensity, while also being in spots very moving. The ending has always stayed with me in the play and it lingered long in my mind after the film was over. 'The Iceman Cometh' is long in length, but this is an example of a play to film adaptation where a long length was necessary and where pretty much everything has to be intact. It gripped me and commanded the attention throughout.
All the characters are of the kind that are very flawed but fascinating in their complexity. O'Neill was a master of character writing and character development, and this film clearly understood that and embraced it. The acting is nothing short of excellent. The standouts being the devastatingly anguished turn of March and a similarly poignant and intense one from Ryan (the latter giving one of my favourite performances of his). Actually thought that an atypically cast Lee Marvin, whose performance had a more controversial critical response, did admirably in his difficult role and attacked it with gusto. While his delivery of his massive scene is not the earth-shattering of deliveries of that scene he does a noble and wonderful stab at it. Although Jason Robards was indeed a supreme interpreter of O'Neill one cannot have him in every film version of his plays. Young Jeff Bridges and Bradford Dillman are also impressive.
Overall, great and one of the best of the series. 9/10.
The Iceman Cometh
Action / Drama
The Iceman Cometh
Action / Drama
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In 1912, the patrons of 'The Last Chance Saloon' have gathered for their evening of whiskey to contemplate their lost faith and dreams, when Hickey (Lee Marvin) arrives. Hickey is out to convince everyone that he can help them all find peace of mind by ridding them of their foolish dreams and bringing them back to reality. Hickey works especially hard on Larry Slade (Robert Ryan) a former anarchist who has lost his passion for life and is awaiting the eventuality of death. Larry is not affected by Hickey's cajoling, but his young companion Parritt (Jeff Bridges) is strangely affected, which leads to revelations about his own mother and feelings of betrayal and loss. As the night wears on, the mood changes as everyone has the their faith and dreams slowly destroyed by Hickey. As the anger builds, everyone turns on Hickey about his wife and the iceman. This leads to more revelations and Hickey having the faint questioning of his own newfound convictions.
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