The Iceman Cometh


Stamina is one thing you need to load up on so you can watch The Iceman Cometh (1973, rated PG, 239 minutes), based on Eugene O’Neill’s impressive 1939 play. Pathos, not so much. Your usual willingness to embrace pathos will be fully engaged, because O’Neill boiled this play in pathos.

Here’s the short version: A bunch of broke-down drunks in a 1912 Greenwich Village bar sprawl in their chairs, mutually reinforcing their relentless pursuit of a maundering besotted state that creates the milieu for exercising their pipe dreams. When their hero, the traveling salesman they call Hickey (Lee Marvin), tries to talk them into exorcizing their pipe dreams, they oh so tentatively agree…but they fail in oh so predictable ways.

Finally, Larry (Robert Ryan)—forlorn, a lapsed anarchist—mutters “Life is too much for me, I’ll be a weak fool, looking with pity at the two sides of everything ‘til the day I die.” The Iceman Cometh distinctly examines only one side of everything. It’s a slow eruption of despair. The film is a masterpiece of truth-telling. Hickey tells some truths about life that are all too real for some people, and all too horrid contingencies for the rest.

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Request 20th century interpretations of The Iceman Cometh; a collection of critical essays, compiled by John Henry Raleigh

Request Eugene O’Neill: Complete plays, 1913-1943



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