The Iceman Cometh [2 Discs] [DVD] [1973]

John Frankenheimer's screen adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh is an unexpectedly good film of a play that should have been impossible to bring to the big screen intact. The movie holds up across 239 minutes of screen time, although only those who saw The Iceman Cometh in its original theatrical run -- which was booked by advance subscription -- are likely ever to have seen it in that form, as opposed to the standard broadcast version, cut by 60 to 100 minutes. This DVD not only restores the movie (and it is a movie, not a filmed play) to full-length -- which, for various technical reasons, looks better than any theatrical showing is ever again likely to -- but comes with a pretty hefty body of supplementary material as well. The movie is transferred in its original non-anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which frames it perfectly, as shot and intended to be seen. The timing and density of the image have been balanced as well as possible, given that several sources had to be used to assemble a complete edition of the movie. (The original negative was cut down to three hours, and alternate sources had to be used for some damaged sections.) The opening, in the darkness of the early morning in a waterfront flophouse, is rather darker than it looked in the theater, but one can easily discern details even in those shots -- besides which, it was 30 years between theatrical showings of the four-hour version of the movie in New York City, so access to that idealized situation is not something on which to depend. There's some speckling here and there, and a few places where the quality is a bit tough to match between sources, but there's also a lot of good consistency. Regardless, Frankenheimer's direction is consistently more beguiling than any transfer flaws are distracting. He never takes the film anywhere that the play doesn't go, but he keeps his actors so intense and fascinating in their work (especially Robert Ryan and Fredric March) and the camera so animated, that one never feels confined or constricted. That may seem like a funny thing to say about any dramatic piece running four hours, but it glides and flows, and doesn't feel remotely like a four-hour movie. The subject matter isn't easy, or particularly pleasant, although there are moments of humor, but it all feels more engrossing and enjoyable than one would think it had a right to be. The film comes complete with the two original programmed intermissions and has been split onto two discs, in a wide box that includes an insert with an essay by theater critic and scholar Michael Feingold on O'Neill and the play. The essay is also repeated onscreen in a frame-by-frame presentation as part of the supplement. Most significant among the extras is an extensive interview with Edie Landau, the co-producer of the American Film Theatre series (of which this was a part) and widow of producer Ely Landau. She delivers a series of reminiscences covering everything from the couple's early history with television productions of this sort to the failure of the subscription service to fulfill the payments and orders for tickets, which could have sunk the series. Her talk is engaging, often funny, occasionally filled with an infectious joy over what they attempted, and also a certain amount of tragedy and frustration. There's also a six-minute promotional film featuring Ely Landau from 1974, at the conclusion of the first season of the series, and trailers devoted to 11 of the AFT releases. There are 28 chapters spread among the two discs, and the menu is easy to maneuver.
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Special Features

  • Theatrical trailer
  • "Eugene O'Neill and The Iceman Cometh," an essay by Michael Feingold, Chief Theatre Critic, The Village Voice
  • The AFT Cinebill for The Iceman Cometh
  • Stills gallery
  • An interview with Edie Landau, Executive in Charge, the American Film Theatre
  • "Ely Landau: In Front of the Camera": AFT promotional reel (1974)
  • The American Film Theatre trailer gallery: Includes a complete list of the AFT films
  • The American Film Theatre scrapbook
  • Enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs


The Iceman Cometh
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. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Lee Marvin
    Lee Marvin - Hickey
  • Robert Ryan
    Robert Ryan - Larry Slade
  • Fredric March
    Fredric March - Harry Pope
  • Jeff Bridges
    Jeff Bridges - Don Parritt
  • Image coming soon
    Martyn Green - The Capt.

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