Classic Movie Reviews

The Iceman Cometh Review

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( Oct 1888 -- Nov 1953 )  

Perhaps it was a sign when O'Neill was born in a small hotel in the area that is now Times Square in Manhattan, hard by Broadway. (The site is now a Starbucks, with a plaque on the wall honoring O'Neill.) His father, James, was an Irish immigrant actor and, because of the unsettled lifestyle of his family, Eugene was sent to a Catholic boarding school, where he often retreated into the world of books. He entered Princeton University but left after his first year, for reasons unknown (but widely speculated on). After working for a time as a reporter and poetry contributor at the New London (Conn.) TELEGRAPH, he spent 1912 and 1913 in a tuberculosis sanitarium, where he decided to become a serious writer. He spent some years at sea, during which he suffered from alcoholism and depression. His first published play, Beyond the Horizon (1920, earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of four he was to receive. He also later was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His plays were among the first in America to reflect the "realism" style that characterized the plays of Anton Chekhov (Russia), Henrik Ibsen (Norway) and August Strindberg (Sweden). With the exception of Ah, Wilderness, his only comedy, all his plays are rather dark and pessimistic, peopled by characters existing at the edge of society, waiting for a better tomorrow that never comes. He produced 34 full-length plays and 20 one-act plays. Several of them, including Anna Christie, The Hairy Ape, Desire Under the Elms, Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh, continue to be staged again every few years, up to the present day.


Frederick March (in his last film), Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Bradford Dillman, Jeff Bridges.


     Not a typical "movie" but rather a filmed Eugene O'Neill play. A group of barflies inhabit a 1912 saloon, all harboring pet illusions about soon changing their way of life and becoming successful, or recovering former success. Marvin is surpisingly apt as travelling salesman Hickey (the Iceman). Hickey goads the bar denizens to finally go out and do the great things they keep saying they'll do. His real purpose is to force them to give up their self-deceptions and accept themselves as they really are. In the end, he realizes they are not better off with no illusions and he helps them settle back into the boozy delusions they need to go on living. Robert Ryan stands out among a superb cast. This film was a production of the American Film Theater, which specialized in filmed plays. The AFT was regrettably short-lived and the American cinema is the poorer for its loss.

1973, Directed by John Frankenhiemer.

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