(1973)3.5Craig ButlerThe Iceman Cometh is a towering, powerful stage play that inevitably loses some of its impact when transferred to the screen, even in as fine a production as this. Part of the reason is that Eugene O'Neill's beautiful language is theatrical in nature and therefore doesn't come across as well in the more naturalistic milieu of the cinema. But a bigger problem is that Iceman is all about a group of people who are trapped with each other; they are not just individuals, they are also all part of a group that has its own character and personality. On-stage, where the camera cannot cut away and zoom in or out, Iceman gains a great deal of its power from the force that the group exerts upon the proceedings, and from the reactions of each member of the group to what is going on. On screen, this is lost, and the loss is felt, even if only subconsciously. In addition, O'Neill's mammoth script has been of necessity pared down; while this has been done in a very admirable manner, it still has an effect. Finally, in Lee Marvin, Iceman has an exceptional actor whose inner raw power and authority, along with his considerable skill, are tremendous assets; however, Marvin lacks the spellbinding charisma that the part demands, that is crucial to its success, and the absence of which leaves a small hole at the play's center. Fortunately, Iceman also has exemplary performances from Robert Ryan and Fredric March, along with solid support from Tom Pedi, Moses Gunn, Jeff Bridges, and Martyn Green. If The Iceman Cometh is not the triumph that it is on-stage, it is still a powerful and frequently mesmerizing piece.
John Frankenheimer's screen version of Eugene O'Neill's 1947 Broadway play The Iceman Cometh is set in 1912 at Harry Hope's dingy waterfront saloon. On the occasion of Hope's birthday, several derelicts enter the scene to pontificate on the lives they'd planned, the lives they still dream about, and the wasted lives they wound up with. The cast features Lee Marvin as Hickey, a loser who's convinced himself that he's a winner; Robert Ryan as Larry Slade; and Fredric March (his last film role) as Harry Hope. The Iceman Cometh was one of a series of prestige productions presented by the American Film Theatre.