On the remote Norwegian Bear Island, used as a submarine base by the Germans during WW2, U.N. scientist Larsen sends a distress signal using an emergency NATO frequency and is received by scientific vessel Morning Rose.
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A group of people converge on a barren Arctic island. They have their reasons for being there but when a series of mysterious accidents and murders take place, a whole lot of darker motives become apparent. Could the fortune in buried Nazi gold be the key to the mystery? Donald Sutherland and Vanessa Redgrave investigate. Written by
Jonathon Dabell <J.D.@pixie.ntu.ac.uk>
The picture represented a number of firsts for actor Donald Sutherland according to the film's publicity. This movie had Sutherland's first film fist fight, was his first in the action-thriller genre (sic, Sutherland had been in The Dirty Dozen (1967)) and the first to have him work in strenuous stunts, though Sutherland was doubled by stunt-man Vic Armstrong for the more dangerous stunts. See more »
When everyone is outside after the generator explosion it is blowing a blizzard, but the flames are rising vertically with minimal wind disturbance rather than being virtually horizontal, revealing that wind machines are being used just on the area where the actors are. See more »
"Coming soon: Alistair MacLean's Goodbye California" See more »
Comparing Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming is salutary. Both were heavy-drinking Scots who wrote action thrillers, hitting the jackpot in the Fifties and Sixties. But whereas Fleming's novels have risen to be Penguin Modern Classics, MacLean-- once said to be the world's best-selling novelist-- is now totally out of print in the States, and in and out of it in his own country.
Fleming created a flat but fascinating protagonist who became more interesting than the villains and girls he encountered; MacLean never used the same character twice, preferring chase and setting to psychology. His inability to invent interesting female foils was absolute; often they have the same name, Mary or variants thereon. MacLean trusted that the story would be its own reward, but without psychological flesh on the bones his stock situation-- group of professionals in tight-lipped quest for a treasure, one of them a snake in the grass- becomes wearisome.
MacLean's other handicap was that he liked money. After "The Guns of Navarone" hit dollar paydirt, he increasingly wrote with movie adaptation in mind, producing hybrids that were neither literary nor cinematic; whereas Fleming barely lived to see the Bond films blossoming into history's biggest screen moneyspinner.
"Bear Island" is a case study in the frosty aridity of MacLean's "visual" imagination. The gang are placed in a locale he knows and loves: the Arctic, scene of his first hit, "HMS Ulysses", and "Ice Station Zebra", a good film. In the background is World War Two, in which MacLean's naval service was the making of him. The principals are uneasily allied in search of Nazi gold buried on Bear Island, near Spitzbergen. There is much betraying and motive-revelation, chases in boats and on skis and snowmobiles, close-quarters work with fists, knives and guns, before the treasure hunt is played out. But it's all as chilly as the temperature.
To begin with, the film was an Anglo-Canadian co-production, never a promising sign; it was shot in British Columbia with a cast ill at ease with their roles. Donald Sutherland, the Canadian contribution, gawps and mumbles in his usual fashion, hardly the strong silent MacLean hero. Vanessa Redgrave-- incredibly, this was the part with which she chose to follow an Oscar for "Julia"-- is a statuesque Scandinavian with a wobbly Ingrid Bergmanesque accent. Christopher Lee seems to pine for cape and fangs. Lloyd Bridges, the bad apple, hams it up in a manner anticipating his turn to actual self-parody in "Airplane!".
All are often encased in anoraks and big fur hoods, so knowing who is doing what to whom is a puzzle. The pace is crippled by the conditions: fights seem slapstick, and there is a ludicrous moment when several characters flounderingly "break into a run" knee deep in snow, at a leaden pace. The icy scenery is attractive, but to get scale the camera has to stand well back, diminishing the figures of the actors and making their manoeuvres seem as trivial as a puppet show.
Director Don Sharp, as Ken Annakin noted in his memoirs, was better at derring-do than humour, but nobody goes to MacLean for a laugh: here too he is unlike Fleming, whose pawky vein of wit was broadened by the Bond scenarists and has preserved the early 007 entries magnificently. The solemnity of "Bear Island"'s furry, flailing personnel becomes risible.
The picture, in short, was a weary and chilly haul for the audience. Not that many were given the chance; it was hardly released to cinemas and became a TV schedule filler. It might as well have been a midatlantic melange from Lord Grade.
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