Consider the fact that not one but two of the actors in this astoundingly good production gave their last cinematic performances. Now consider that one of them gave one of his first performances. The convergence of talent for this full 4 hour production is beyond prodigious; it's breathtaking. Robert Ryan and Frederic March are flawless as two old, embittered men whose reliance on booze, day to day, gets them through life. Both have women who abandoned them--one died, one left. Both lapse into stark cynicism that breaks the heart. Both, when you see their faces, make you want to cry from the pain they feel.
They are the best here, but the supporting cast is almost as good. Jeff Bridges, in one of his first roles, gives it everything he's got to convey the portrait of a young man who's trying as hard as he can to steer clear of the bitterness and cynicism that surrounds him in Harry Hope's (Frederic March) skid row saloon, frequented by Harry, Larry (Robert Ryan), and an assortment of others whose lives have left them nothing but the will to drink and drink some more.
Parritt, Jeff Bridges' character, almost succeeds in shucking off the hopelessness, but if he fully succeeded, he wouldn't keep returning to the place--which he does. He's the odd one out; the others are grizzled or, if young (like Brad Dillman's character, Willie) so besotted they're decades older than their natural years. Into this morass of self-pity and useless nostalgia comes Hickey--Lee Marvin--a salesman who exhorts everyone to give up their pipe dreams, get off the sauce like he's recently done, and face reality.
Easier said than done. You'd think that four hours of a play would become wearying, but the actors are so good here, and the dialogue so strong--thanks to master craftsman Eugene O'Neill--that rather than putting you to sleep, this drama has the opposite effect. Mention should also be made of Moses Gunn as the sole black man in the place who's embittered as well, blaming the white man for his failure when it's all too clear it's his own shortcomings that have led him to Harry's dive. Gunn is terrific in his role, almost as good as Ryan and March.
This is American drama at its finest, and a production, part of the American Film Theater (AFT) series, that does justice to O'Neill's gripping play. It's impossible to fault anyone here, and the director, John Frankenheimer--better known for great thrillers like The Train and Seconds--said that this was the best work he ever did. The DVD comes with a number of extras including an interview with Edy Landau, co-producer of the entire American Film Theater series; a brief introduction by her now-deceased husband (taped in 1974), Eli Landau, the other co-producer; a gallery of stills; a set of trailers for many of the AFT films; reviews of the series by various critics; and an essay on The Iceman Cometh by Michael Feingold, premier New York film critic.
This is a superior piece of dramatic work that should not be missed, and one of the great American plays. Consider the fact that when this originally ran, it was only for two showings! Hats off to Kino Video for making this available on DVD.
Very highly recommended.