The Iceman Cometh (1973) Poster

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One of the greatest films never seen
luannjim24 July 2002
"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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The Denizens of Harry Hope's Waterfront Dive
bkoganbing27 May 2007
The Iceman Cometh is one great film to go out on for not one, but two of the best players ever. This turned out to be the last performances for both Fredric March and Robert Ryan. In the case of Ryan he knew he was terminal and his performance has real poignancy.

Of course you can't beat the material that was given to them and the rest of the cast. It's been argued that The Iceman Cometh is the greatest work from the pen of America's greatest playwright Eugene O'Neill and I'm not going to argue the point.

Some would give the honor of O'Neill's greatest play to Long Day's Journey Into Night. That particular play was Eugene O'Neill's remembrance of his childhood and family. The Iceman Cometh is also about a family of sorts, the community that's been established around Harry Hope's waterfront bar and SRO flophouse. It's owner Harry Hope played by Fredric March, is a former Tammany politician who's not set foot outside his establishment because he's in mourning over his late wife Bessie.

The whole usual crowd of boarder/drinkers is awaiting the arrival of one of the regulars who apparently likes to go slumming there. It's Hickey, a gladhanding traveling salesman Lee Marvin who spends like a Diamond Jim Brady and is generally the life of the party. But it's a new and somber Hickey that comes to bar that day.

A stranger arrives that day also, Jeff Bridges a young anarchist is on the run he says from the Pacific Coast where his mother among others has been picked up. He's looking for an older leader of the movement Larry Slade who is played by Robert Ryan. Ryan is a beaten and tired man and of all the people in the bar he's the one with the most realistic assessment. It's the last stop for this crowd before the Grim Reaper.

But the somber Marvin, still full of salesman's guile gets them all to reassess themselves and their 'pipe dreams' even for a little while. He also reveals a terrible secret about himself and Jeff Bridges has even bigger cross to bear and Bridges can't bear it.

I was blown away by the performances of everyone in the cast. Marvin came in for some criticism at the time, attempting to serious a part and one that Jason Robards, Jr. was given acclaim for as his career role. But there was nothing wrong in Lee Marvin's performance that I could find. Young Jeff Bridges more than held his own with the veteran cast. My favorite among the supporting parts is Bradford Dillman who plays a lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law and for whatever reason, broke down and is now here.

One member of the cast in this production was in the original Broadway cast when The Iceman Cometh premiered on Broadway in 1946. That was Tom Pedi who played the bartender Rocky Pioggi who also doubled as a pimp for some prostitutes who hang out there. Next to Ryan, the women who we don't learn anything about really, seem to have the most realistic ideas about the patrons there. Pedi's performance in a part he grew to own is pretty special also.

Bridges is the outsider, he had a cause, a revolutionary cause and O'Neill in his youth hung around with that crowd as we learned in Warren Beatty's Reds. We also learned that while O'Neill liked the people he was less than optimistic about the beliefs they had. If Bridges is a failed John Reed, O'Neill in Ryan's character of Larry Slade is looking back over the years when he drank in such places as Harry Hope's. The rest of the cast is no doubt modeled after people he knew back in the day.

In his own way, O'Neill loved these people a whole lot more than he did his own family. And it's to them and for them he wrote The Iceman Cometh. And it's for us to see a small part of New York in 1912, some folks who might have passed unnoticed by time, but for the fact that a literary genius passed among them.
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deannolan27 October 2003
Can I tell you that I have waited 30 years to see this movie? When I was in my late teens, I received a brochure in the mail advertising the American Film Theater series. One of the films in the series that made my eyes pop was the promise to show Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh". I was a big fan of O'Neill's work, but felt cheated by AFT's disastrous marketing concept of showing it's films to season subscribers only, and then only giving them two days to see the film. I was forced to take a pass, but mourned my loss ever since.

This play is rarely performed. At four hours, it would task most theater companies, and Hickey's 25 minute soliloquy in the last act requires only the best actors to pull off. I was fortunate to have seen this play, once in my life, performed on the stage. This was Chicago's Goodman Theater production starring Brian Dennehy as Hickey in 1990. I felt fortunate, but came away from that production dissatisfied. Dennehy was a "good" Hickey, but not a great one, and the rest of the cast left me a little shallow.

How glad I was then to discover that this film had been re-released. By pure chance, I saw a notice in the paper that this film would be showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. I couldn't let this opportunity pass by a second time. I attended the screening and was absolutely stunned. It exceeded my expectations.

First of all, the cast was stellar. Robert Ryan played his last film role here, and it was perfect. I don't say something like that very often. I cannot imagine a better Larry.

Fredric March played his last role here too, as Harry Hope. Also an excellent performance.

The question everyone would be asking about is Hickey, played by Lee Marvin. Was he up to the role? To my surprise, Marvin couldn't have been a better choice.

Hickey was a salesman, and a rare one at that. He was the type of salesman that could knock on your door and convince you that what he had to sell was what you needed. A salesman like that had to exude a sense of complete self confidence. They would have to be totally sure of themselves and show it. Lee Marvin did that perfectly.

The tragedy of Hickey was that he was his own best customer. He was a tortured soul until he came across a solution that made him feel that he could live with himself again, thus creating his own pipedream. His mistake was to think he found a solution that would save humanity.

Unfortunately, in Harry Hope's dive, pipe-dreams and illusions were the only thing the patrons had to live for. Tampering with that created disaster.

Lee Marvin convinced me that he was Hickey, and in a play like this, that is quite an accomplishment.

By the way, I discovered that this film is now available on VHF and DVD. I am getting a copy.
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astonishing performances, absorbing play, direction that keeps things moving
MisterWhiplash5 July 2008
It was a wise decision on the part of producer Ely Landau- one of the only wise ones, as seems to be the history of the flawed ambition of the American Theater Company's movie adaptation productions- to hire John Frankenheimer as director. He was known at the time in the movie industry for churning out high-charged action and adventure pictures (i.e. The Train, Grand Prix), and the occasional dark classic (The Manchurian Candidate), but he started as a television director, and with a play that ran like The Iceman Cometh there would be needed someone who could track the stinging, meaning-of-life-and-death dialog of O'Neill's play with the camera and not make it feel too 'stagey'. This might be difficult to surmise that he made it fully cinematic in the sense of using more than one set or exteriors, as he didn't. Everything is confined to that set of Harry's bar. But within this precise, necessary limitation, Frankenheimer delivered one of his best projects.

Then again, how could he not with the source material? It's about some of the richest theater ever produced, least in the 20th century, and is considered by many to be O'Neill's epic masterpiece. It's a tale of a community, a quasi-family of bums and stragglers who're stuck more or less in a dive down in a seedy section of New York city in the early part of the century, awaiting the return of Hickey (Lee Marvin), a big force of a man who works in advertising. This time things are a little different, however, and a new revelation leads the men (and a couple of the women) to wonder if he's flipped his lid. Around this premise of a dark secret or a certain feeling of "death" that Hickey has brought with him, O'Neill creates an ensemble that's unforgettable in its mix of light and dark, principled and sleazy, afraid and just downright kooky. There's a whole mix; there's Larry the ex-anarchist who's slowly dying inside (Robert Ryan); there's the depressed-cum-demanding kid (Jeff Bridges); Harry (March); the bartender/pimp; a black gambler; the "Limey"; the "Tarts"; and a crazy, rambling European screaming about socialism from time to time.

And despite what some may have said comparing it to the 1960's made-for-TV version directed by Lumet (which I would love to see but is at the moment unavailable), I'd be hard-pressed to see a cast better than this. Just a reminder: Lee Marvin can act, amazingly, and here he puts his chops to such a test that he rolls on to his climactic, half hour quasi-confession like it's the performance of his life. Ditto for Ryan and March, and for them it was more-so (Ryan knew he was dying, adding a poignancy to what was probably his best, most subtle work, and March is captivating as the stubborn old drunk owner). And Bridges, in a role which he said made him want to continue seriously being an actor, is hard to take one's eyes away from, even as his character wavers from being sympathetic to unlikeable in a single scene. And the bulk of the supporting cast are all wonderfully played and transposed, injecting life into a play that requires it to keep it going full throttle.

It's not an easy thing to endure; it's four hours long, and for the first hour here and there one has to go through some minor early morning drunkenness from the characters, which isn't the least effective portion of the play as well as the film. From there on out, if one is tuned into O'Neill's precisely harrowing story of the bums and drunkards and outcasts and all very flawed human beings, it will work wonders even in its sparsest moments. The ending, I might add, is about as perfectly bittersweet as I've seen this side of Woody Allen's Manhattan. Frankenheimer's work is a nearly forgotten gem.
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Fredric March appreciation
danielj_old99911 February 2006
It seems that there have been a few actors psychologically and kinesthetically "born" to interpret the works of a certain great playwright (or director) as Toshiro Mifune/Akira Kurosawa for the cinema. It would seem that March and Jason Robards had this relationship with Eugene O'Neill. I've been told that March's performance in "Long Day's Journey into Night" in NYC in the 1950's was for the ages; this "ICEMAN" is another example. I had always thought that in his high gloss Hollywood films March appeared a bit flat and dull (excepting of course "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"). In this film we can see a great actor regalvanized in one of the greatest supporting performances ever committed to film. Beneath the sheer coating of mordant humor which March provides with such finesse, we witness the total, volcanic deterioration and spiritual anguish of a human being. Probably the two greatest career finishes in cinema history were March and Robert Ryan in this movie.
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Guy walks into a bar...
marcslope25 September 2006
One of the brownest movies ever made -- brown walls, brown furniture, red-brown faces of the drunken patrons of Harry's Bar -- and somehow that feels appropriate, as a lot of it is about autumnal regrets and faded dreams. One in the series of the AFI's American Film Theatre series, it's a very faithful rendering of O'Neill's great play, with one original Broadway cast member (Tom Pedi's bartender) and loads of good casting throughout. John Frankenheimer's camera is thrust right up at the actors' faces, and you keep looking for artifice or melodrama, but, with the exception of Sorrell Booke's sodden Hugo, there's very little. Fredric March's deluded Harry Hope, Robert Ryan's despairing ex- revolutionary Larry, Jeff Bridges' guilt-ridden student (a very difficult role for a young actor, especially in company as august as this) -- all have the ring of truth, and once you get used to the deliberate pacing, repetitive arguments and apologies, and startlingly frank language for a 1946 play, you're hooked. As to Lee Marvin's Theodore Hickey: I was convinced up to his famous Act Three monologue, but he stumbles here, launching into badly calibrated fits of temper and back again. Compare it against Jason Robards Jr.'s interpretation in the 1960 Sidney Lumet-directed TV version, and you'll see the difference between a good actor overreaching and a master in a role he was born to play. (I also saw Kevin Spacey's attempt on the stage a few years ago: He played Hickey like Professor Harold Hill, all bluster and forced charisma, and it didn't work.) A depressing four hours, but worthy, and a rich sample of the actor's art.
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Heeeeeeeere's Hickey…and he's here to help!
RJBurke194215 July 2008
While I don't cover much of the plot in this long film, I do try to explain the philosophy that underpins why a bunch of drunks are sitting around a bar, in 1912 New York, waiting for their friend, Hickey, to arrive. If you'd rather see the film first, then read no further.


When I saw this 1973 film in the seventies, I thought it was an interesting, if long-winded, exposition about the evils of alcohol addiction and sloth, and not much else. Being in my early thirties then, y'see, I was more interested in less depressing topics.

Recently, however, I obtained a DVD and decided to have another look. When I finished I realized, of course, that the play is indeed much, much more than my first, immature assessment. In fact, as I watched, it became very clear to me that the whole play is an allegory that plays – no pun intended - with the biblical John the Baptist, The Last Supper, and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot.

Intrigued by those thoughts, I searched the internet for O'Neill biographies (as I knew next to nothing about him) because I had an idea that O'Neill had been a Catholic who'd rebelled and that he had fully intended his play to (almost) parody those religious icons. Various search results confirmed O'Neill's religious background and his rejection of Catholicism while the following, from another online source, supports the idea of a religious underpinning for the play:

• "The Iceman Cometh, the most complex and perhaps the finest of the O'Neill tragedies, followed in 1939, although it did not appear on Broadway until 1946. Laced with subtle religious symbolism, the play is a study of man's need to cling to his hope for a better life, even if he must delude himself to do so."

So, yes, the play is about a lot of drunken loafers in various stages of despair, but they all represent the status of humanity, according to O'Neill: besotted by its own self-delusion and self-pity.

Consider Hickey (Lee Marvin, in a truly great performance) as a modern rendition of the biblical John: the quintessential salesman, the sharp-talking shark who can tear you to pieces verbally, and the man who has the message that will save you; yes, you twelve, you drunken bums, sitting on your asses twenty-four-seven, drowning yourselves in your collective delusions. Forget your pipe-dreams, says Hickey, stand up for yourselves, on your own feet, and get out there and face the world, the new world that is dawning for each, if only you would act! But first, you must give up the first, and maybe worst, crutch: booze. Because, continues Hickey, I've seen the light and I've given up drinking – ah, well, except for the odd, important and festive occasion, y'know...

So what could be more important than a birthday party for Harry Hope (Frederic March), the bar owner without hope, who hasn't stepped outside since his wife died twenty years earlier? He and the other eleven men in that bar have been waiting and waiting for Hickey to come and lavish his eloquence (and drinking money, of course) upon them all.

So, Hickey delivers, and then some, by convincing them all, except Larry Slade (Robert Ryan in his best-ever performance), in a moving - literally and figuratively - tirade during and after that Last Supper that Hickey will ever attend at this bar. Why last? Because Hickey has an unsavory secret that shocks them all, (except Larry) to the core when he is forced to reveal it and, in doing so, they all (except Larry again) reject Hickey's promise of personal salvation. Hence, when Hickey meets his fate with the law, as did the biblical John, and the bums go back to their booze and their delusions, Larry is the only one to realize that he can no longer remain on "the grandstand of philosophical detachment" and must act now according to his convictions.

Ironically, Larry's decision seals the fate of Don Paritt (a very young Jeff Bridges), a thoroughly unlikable coward and betrayer of lost causes. Lacking true courage to initiate the action to atone for his crime, Don beseeches Larry to decide for him, with the inevitable result. And, as Larry savors his new found "freedom", such as it is, he looks through the window, and specifically away from his one-time drinking partners who are all now busily, once again, deluding themselves with drink.

As the epitome of a modernity that rejects religion, Lee Marvin says it all, with consummate skill and panache; only Robert Ryan's Larry (O'Neill's alter ego), perhaps as a counterpoint to the biblical Peter, sees Hickey's message for what it truly is – a rejection of that "opium of the masses" as Karl Marx opined - and finally decides to act for himself. The other ten 'apostles' at the bar are lost souls because it's sufficient for O'Neill, in my opinion, that Larry finally woke up; the rest of the world can live in Hell.

What's missing – or, rather, who's missing – from this whole play is, of course, a Christ-figure. Again, given O'Neill's view of religion as a delusion, that is entirely fitting.

The setting – all in one long, dark and moody bar – the directing from Frankenheimer, the photography that uses long takes and medium closeups throughout, the production standards, all add up to an experience that is only rarely presented. And, without a doubt, all of the actors performed to the peak, I think, of their prowess.

Highly recommended for all theatre and cinema buffs.

I must now, of course, search for a DVD of the 1960 version and prepare a comparative review.
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The Iceman Cometh
wha1215620 March 2006
As a spectacle designed originally for a theater stage this was superbly translated to the 'smallscreen' I am more than well seasoned in the art of sitting in judgment and I have to say it is so well constructed that I watched it from start to finish with no interruptions. My guess is that in the theater presentation one would have enjoyed at least one toilet break!... Each and every character added their own ingredients to a thoroughly satisfying theatrical experience. Another small point for me was to see the wide range of actors strutting their stuff - possibly their ages spanned over sixty years from March to Bridges yet their convictions came through in such a way that I felt I was in that barroom with them and after all, is this not what theater should be. My congratulations to all involved, the camera work enhanced the drama extremely well. I will be watching this again.
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Consider a superior alternative
dforster19 May 1999
I am adding my comment because the TV version did not show up on the IMDB cross-reference list. This play was previously produced in the early 1960s for the TV "Play of the Week" series. It starred Jason Robards Jr. as Hickey. Many consider this his finest performance and this TV version, the finest production. I saw both the movie version listed here and the TV version. As good as Lee Marvin's performance was, I also agree that the TV version is superior. See this if you can. The Iceman Cometh also happens to be my favorite play.

An aside; I believe that Jason Robards Jr. was not offered the part for the movie version because at that time, his alcoholism got the better of him. There is irony here since the play demonstrates the impact of alcoholism and the pipe dreams that come from it. Up till then, the role of Hickey belonged to Mr. Robards Jr. as it should have. Mr. Robards Jr. interpretation of Eugene O'Neill's plays have always been masterful. I am convinced he was deeply hurt and has always regretted not being able to perform in the movie production.

An experiment that I am sorry ended.

This movie was an early part of a new production experiment in which the audience prepaid for the series (I am not sure of the series name but I seem to remember the American Film Theater or Institute). I had subscribed to it and I am sorry that the experiment failed after producing perhaps no more than 10 fine productions of classic plays.
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Profound play, excellent production
sissoed26 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Never having see "Iceman" live or on film, I watched the 1973 Lee Marvin version first, then the 1960 Jason Robards version, because I wanted to see the Lee Marvin approach without the bias of having previously seen the famous Robards approach. Both performances were excellent: Marvin was more believable as a coarse, cheating salesman, while Robards was more soft and humane. Each connected deeply into the playwright's vision, but differently.

The major difference between the two productions is not Hickey, but his main foil, Larry Slade. In the 1973 version, Ryan opens the play with hopeless bitterness, a darkness that suffuses the first scene. In the 1960 version, McCormick begins the part with a lighter, bemused detachment. In the 1960 version, Slade is reading newspapers, which shows he still has an interest in the world. In the 1973 version, Ryan's Slade is in gloom, no newspapers in sight – and no light to read them by even if he had them.

In fact, the first scene of the 1973 version is so slow and gloomy that it is very hard to see any reason to watch the play. None of the characters makes you want to spend a little more time with them, and none of them interact with each other in a way that is friendly or kind. The 1960 version is much lighter, and the emotional ties between sub-groups of characters are more developed. The 1973 version comes to life only when Hickey enters (the 1960 version is alive from the start), and Marvin's Hickey redeems the tedium of the scenes that precede him.

Also, in the 1973 version of the 1st scene, when one character is speaking to another, the camera is often behind and to the side of the head of the listener, showing only the back and side of the listener's head. This prevents us from seeing the listener reacting to the speaker, which turns all these speeches into soliloquies delivered into the air. Now, I don't know which version is closer to O'Neill's vision (although we can be pretty sure the 1960 version is closer to O'Neill's text), but I can say that in the 1973 version, up until Marvin's Hickey arrives, it's hard to feel any desire to listen to any of these self-involved, isolated, moody failures.

In the 1960 version you get a sense that this is a community of people with some positive aspects – a web of friendships, or at least, the appearance of friendships.

A problem common to both versions is the implausibility of a room full of these sleeping or lethargic people slumped over the tables, allegedly because they were all waiting for Hickey. A reviewer pointed out that the play reworks the 'Last Supper,' with Hickey in the Christ role, and the other men regulars in the role of the 12 disciples. However, there are 13 male characters in addition to Hickey, so it appears that O'Neill has changed the structure.

As regards the 'Last Supper' model, the Christ character is not Hickey, but Larry Slade. He is the one whom Parritt comes to – Parritt, who betrayed the movement and his mother for money, and who thus functions in a Judas role, and who seeks Slade's forgiveness. But the Christ here – Slade – is a 'savior' who knows nothing, who has lost faith in his own movement.

Hickey is the new character, one who was not at the 'Last Supper.' Hickey's repeated protestations of wanting to help the others, and the way in which he can help them, shows that Hickey is not a Christ, but a kind of Buddhist bodhisattva – to quote one definition, a being 'who delays his own final and complete enlightenment in order to save all sentient beings out of his enormous compassion … on a mission to liberate all sentient beings, and only then will he rest and complete his own enlightenment.' In 1939, when O'Neill wrote "Iceman," he was deeply interested in Eastern religions, and in fact wrote "Iceman" while living in a home he gave an Eastern name, "Tao House," meaning 'the right way of life.'

At the table where the characters are all gathered for Harry Hope's birthday party, Hickey talks about how his goal is to get all of the inmates of Hope's bar feeling "you won't give a damn what you are anymore" and "don't give a damn about anything anymore" – this is the indifference, the non-feelingness, of the eastern concept of nirvana. Immediately after this, Slade responds by characterizing the people in the saloon as "us poor pipe-dreaming sinners along the sawdust trail of salvation" – the imagery of Christian salvation. This sets up the fundamental issue of the play: whether Buddhist concepts of nirvana can replace the failed (at least, failed to O'Neill) salvation concepts of Christianity. By the end of the play, we know O'Neill's answer: no.

Hickey learns first that although he has forced the others to face up to the failed people they really are, this has not brought them peace; and then, almost as an accident, Hickey himself learns that his own peace has been based on a flattering lie to himself about himself. Once he sees his own reality, the reality of how fallen he really is, not even he, the bodhisattva, can face it. Seeing how the others are clinging to happiness by feeling hope that they are better than they really are, he decides to fall-in with their self-lying, so that they will also lie and tell him that they agree that he is a better person than he really is. Only Slade, the Christ-figure, says that Hickey has converted him to be able to face his worthlessness and self-deception. At this point, Parritt – following the Judas model, Judas who hung himself out of guilt – kills himself by leaping from a height.
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Is the longer version available?
wem9 July 1999
This is more of a question than a comment. I recently taped the 1973 film version of THE ICEMAN COMETH from the Encore cable film channel. The movie, which is excellent and highly recommended (though seeing a production of the play is even more effective), was vastly shorter (by an entire hour!) than I had remembered it being when I saw it twice back in the 70's and 80's. I am almost certain that this three hour version aired by Encore is something doctored up by the studio to offer a more palatable running time to cable channels and art houses.

My question is: does anyone know if the four hour version still exists; and if there is anyway of getting my hands on it? The many, MANY, internal cuts in the three hour version (probably unnoticeable if you're not familiar with the play or the longer version of the movie) seriously undercuts the power of O'Neill's great play.
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Fine O'Neill Production
harry-762 April 1999
In 1973 when the American Film Institute's repertoire played in selected U.S. city theaters, "The Iceman Cometh" was a series standout. The film retains its effectiveness today, due to O'Neill's insightful script, John Frankenheimer's excellent direction, and a fine cast, headed by Fredric March and Robert Ryan. We are fortunate to have so beautiful a production of this classic American play preserved on film.
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One of the better theater films
safford993 March 2003
The American Film Theater made about 10 films of notable plays which retained the feel of seeing a theater production, but employed high caliber actors to fill the roles, and enhanced production values so you are not just simply watching actors perform on a stage. The movies that were made (A Delicate Balance, Luther, Galileo, The Maids, The Man in the Glass Booth, Butley, In Celebration, The Homecoming) are interesting, but not really entertaining.

The camera doesn't replace the experience of seeing a live performance, and since the actors are employing theatrical techniques in their performances they do come across as overblown and somewhat hammy.

"The Iceman Cometh" comes across better than most of the AFT productions. The cast is steller with Robert Ryan and Bradford Dillman being particular standouts. The only weak performance is delivered by Jeff Bridges who was probably too young at the time to rise to the demands of O'Neill's work.

This is a long movie (4 hours)and character driven, but worth the viewing.
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really makes you examine your life
FlorenceLawrence30 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a fabulous film about human nature IMHO, written by someone who knew suffering all too well, all his characters are just so rich and recognisable. They easily transfer to a modern age, as sadly trying to push down feelings of discontentment, unhappiness and guilt with alcohol or chemical abuse and lies you half believe, told to yourself, is just as much a modern hobby.

The film see's everyone waiting for the arrival of Hickey (Lee Marvin), why because Hickey is fun, he makes everybody feel better, not only by supplying the booze and therefore artificial joy that brings, but also because he can further enhance the delirium with his gift of knowing just what people want to hear.

Harry's bar provides the setting for this drama, throughout the film we never leave this dark claustrophobic environment. To it's inhabitants though, it's a haven, a place where they can exist one day at a time, without having to ever face the real world.

They all firmly believe that a wonderful life is just waiting outside the door, wishing they would come out, eager for their participation, and just happy to hang on for them to be ready to decide too participate.

Well maybe they don't firmly believe this, when the effects of the alcohol subsides and they have not got someone like Hickey to blow on their tiny little embers of self delusion with words of hope, cold moments of reality, rattle at their consciousness, as the truth attempts to rear it's ugly head.

The occupants of the bar are like a self support group of agoraphobic's, fellow sufferers provide distractions and so less moments of clarity too nag at their guilt ridden souls, asking for a reckoning regarding what a waste they are making of such a precious thing as a human life.

However when Hickey turns up, it's not the Hickey they all know and love, his long awaited arrival, lacks it's usual comforting effect.
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One of the best films not available on tape
jwest52517 April 2001
This movie is a rich 4 hours long. Lots of talk very little action. Yet I was transfixed by the dialogue and the acting. I have seen two productions with Robards in the title role and this hold up very well. How it is not on videotape escapes me.
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The Iceman Cometh
Preznikoff29 October 2007
All round wonderful record of the play. Beautifully directed by Frankenheimer. Excellent all round cast with top kudos to Frederick March. As to Lee Marvin. He comes alive in the long monologue after foot dragging through the part till then. The ultimate Hickey? The one that can't be touched or beat? My main man Jason. Rent the 1960 TV version directed by Lumet. There you will see greatness. If only Robards played it in the 1973 version, how much deeper it would have become. How ironic that because he didn't get a chance to do the part and ended up in a horrific car accident he nevertheless came back to Broadway in A Moon for the Misbegotten, and once again wiped everyone off the stage with another confessional monologue, the likes of which we will never see again.
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Lee Marvin Iceman is Just as Good as Jason Robards
clotblaster3 September 2007
One reviewer opines that Jason Robards' Hickey is better than Lee Marvin's. I couldn't disagree more. I have DVD's of both versions and I believe Robards is playing Robards as much as he is playing Hickey. Also, Robards strains in The Iceman that you can see he is "acting." Marvin, on the other hand lets Hickey be Hickey. One other thing makes the Iceman Cometh with Marvin far superior is the supporting class. Robert Ryan, Bradford Dillman and Frederic March give magnificent, believable performances. I think Robards believed all the reviews that said he was the ultimate O'Neill actor. By way of contrast, see Robards in Long Days Journey Into the Night where he doesn't let his persona get in the way of his role. Also, in Long Day's Journey we have an ensemble play/movie that doesn't require Robards to strain to be the great O'Neill actor.
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second best film version
nachtzoen16 January 2005
Lee Marvin does his best here, but is just not in the same class as Jason Robards who is perfect for the role. There are other fine characters in the Marvin version which makes it definitely worth a look, however, nobody in the supporting cast does a bad job. Fredric March and Robert Ryan are truly spectacular in their roles and really steal the show from Lee Marvin. The Iceman Cometh is a great play, probably the best Eugene O'Neill ever wrote. If you haven't seen it, watch this, it's a cut above the average American film. But if you're planning on buying a copy, search for Jason Robard as Hickey. Lee Marvin's acting is too one dimensional to make this an excellent film.
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The Pipedream Cometh
crafo-11 November 2012
I have to confess right off the bat that I love O'Neill and this play is certainly one of the grandest of them all, but I am also one of those that would have preferred to see Jason Robards in the Hickey role. I did see Robards play it on kine scope and thought he was about as right as it gets.

Having said that, Lee Marvin does admirably in this huge role. My expectation were low but I was not disappointed. I even thought he brought a level of menace to the part that might have been missing with another actor.

It is a grim play. Nothing cute about this bunch of burn outs and hardcore drunks. Not easy to view and experience and very long! (I watched it in 3, count them, 3 sittings! Special praise goes to Robert Ryan, in one of his best roles ever and a very young and vibrant Jeff Bridges who comes through against a long array of seasoned performers.

I do not think I have ever heard the word "pipedream" more. It occurs again and again and with purpose and sadness.

Although this work has a half a ton of drunks and losers, it is not for the partying JERSEY SHORE crowd. This is highbrow epic stuff.

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