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The Iceman Cometh (1973)

PG | | Drama | 10 November 1973 (USA)
A salesman with a sudden passion for reform has an idea to sell to his barfly buddies: throw away your pipe dreams. The drunkards, living in a flophouse above a saloon, resent the idea.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hildy Brooks ...
Pearl (as Nancy Juno Dawson)
Evans Evans ...
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Stephen Pearlman ...


It's 1912 and 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 the foolish dreams and by bringing them back to reality. Hickey is working especially hard on Larry Slade (Robert Ryan) a former anarchist who has lost his will for life and is awaiting the eventuality of death. Larry is not affected by the cajolings of Hickey but his young companion Parritt (Jeff Bridges) is strangely affected and this 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 with Hickey having the faint questioning of his own new found convictions. Written by Dr pepper <j0468@aol.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


They drank and they dreamed...tomorrow they would conquer the world...then along came Hickey.




PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

10 November 1973 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Buzcu Geliyor  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Sorrell Booke, who played Hugo Kalmar in the 1960 television version of The Iceman Cometh (1960), repeats his role here. See more »


Willie Oban: Would that Hickey or death would come!
See more »


Referenced in That's So Raven: The Ice Girl Cometh (2006) See more »

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User Reviews

One of the greatest films never seen
24 July 2002 | by (Sacramento, CA USA) – See all my reviews

"The Iceman Cometh" was part of American Film Theatre, an experiment by producer Ely Landau. The idea was for top-flight casts and creative talent to film classic plays. Then selected theaters would show one film a month, but only on two days (consecutive Tuesdays, if memory serves) before returning to their regular programs until the following month, when the next AFT release would be put up for two more days.

The program was nothing if not high-tone and ambitious. Productions included Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" with Katharine Hepburn, Paul Scofield and Lee Remick; "Lost in the Stars," the Maxwell Anderson-Kurt Weill musical based on "Cry, the Beloved Country"; Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder; and Chekhov's "The Three Sisters" directed by Laurence Olivier. Unfortunately, the project as a whole was an unmitigated disaster. For one thing, most of the films were uninspired, some were mediocre, and a few were downright awful. But most of all, the whole idea flew in the face of motion picture economics: how could any movie (or live play, for that matter) possibly break even when it ran for only TWO DAYS?

All things considered, it's a tribute to Landau's skill as a promoter that the AFT managed to limp through two "seasons," 1973-74 and 1974-75, before collapsing in a tangled heap of debts, lawsuits, and countersuits. But collapse it did, and the legal can-of-worms that it left, with the AFT's liabilities mixed with the rights of authors and their estates, is probably what keeps the films out of theatrical circulation and unavailable on video.

In the case of most AFT productions, truth be told, that's no great loss. But "The Iceman Cometh" is head-and-shoulders above all the rest put together (I suspect Landau knew it, too: that's no doubt why he put his best foot forward by making it the premiere production). It is, in fact, a great movie -- a great play with a once-in-a-lifetime cast (it was Fredric March's last movie, and Robert Ryan died even before it came out) under the hand of a fine director (John Frankenheimer) who cut his teeth on live drama during the Golden Age of Television.

Nobody connected with this film ever did better work -- not Ryan, who was brilliant and deserved a posthumous Oscar nomination for it; not March, one of Hollywood's greatest; none of the supporting cast; not even Jeff Bridges, who was only 23 and just at the beginning of his career (he once said that this was the film that made him realize he was serious about being an actor).

A special case is Lee Marvin in the pivotal role of Hickey; he was much disparaged by critics at the time, but the tone was one of

how-dare-this-B-movie-thug-lay-his-unclean-hands-on-a-role-that-belongs-now- and-forever-to-Jason-Robards. Meaning no disrespect, but Robards was hardly infallible; Lee Marvin never did anything as bad as Robards's Brutus in "Julius Caesar" (1970). An impartial viewing of Marvin in "The Iceman Cometh" shows he was entirely up to the role, even in the demanding, shattering 25-minute monologue where Hickey's self-loathing hypocrisy slips out against his will.

I was lucky enough to see this film twice in a theater -- once on its premiere in November '73, and again in the spring of '75, when Landau tried (in vain) to recoup his losses by giving a general release to selected AFT films. I've never forgotten it, and there are moments as fresh in my mind as if I saw them yesterday: Robert Ryan's anguish when he snarls, "You think you'll get me to admit that to myself?" and Marvin replies, "But you just did admit it, didn't you?"; Jeff Bridges's tormented profile as he sits at the table with Ryan trying to sort out his life; Fredric March as the doddering saloon-keeper venturing outside for the first time in years; Lee Marvin's ironic little dance as he calls himself "a happy-go-lucky slob like me." All, and so much more, unforgettable.

I am dismayed to read in another comment here that there seems to be a three-hour version of this film out there somewhere. This would be outrageous enough if the original version were readily available, but since the original is not, it's intolerable. Any cutting of this film (which already judiciously edits O'Neill's original text) can only be a mutilation. Accept no substitutes, and DO NOT watch this film, regardless of its length, if it is shown on TV with commercial breaks. See it ONLY in its 239-minute version, uninterrupted except for the two intermissions O'Neill intended (this was, by the way, the first movie with two intermissions) -- the cumulative power of the play demands it, and a movie this great deserves nothing less.

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