Roger Ebert, the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times until his death in 2013, was one of the few film critics I respected. I dd not always agree with his opinions but unlike most film critics, he seemed to truly love movies and it showed. Despite some wince-inducing spoilers in his on-air reviews with Gene Siskel (1992’s The Crying Game review comes immediately to mind), Roger Ebert seemed to prefer praising a film more often then damning it.
Case in point is his recently revived list of the ten best films of 1973 I discovered online a few days ago. The full list is interesting but naturally, I like his choice for number five. When the film came out most critics who admired it, considered Lee Marvin miscast or worse, not up to the role of Hickey. Not so with Ebert. Read his capsule review below…
5. THE ICEMAN COMETH
“There isn’t a bad performance in the film, but there are three of such greatness they mesmerize us. The best is by the late Robert Ryan, as Larry, and this is possibly the finest performance of his career. There is such wisdom and sadness in his eyes, and such pain in his rejection of the boy Don (who may possibly be his own son), that he makes the role almost tender despite the language O’Neill gives him. It would be a tribute to a distinguished career if Ryan were nominated posthumously for an Academy Award. Lee Marvin, as Hickey, has a more virtuoso role: He plays a salesman who has been coming to Harry’s saloon for many years to have a “periodical drunk.” This time he’s on the wagon, he says, because he’s found peace. We discover his horrible peace when he confesses to the murder. Marvin has recently been playing in violent action movies that require mostly that he look mean; here he is a tortured madman hidden beneath a true believer.“
You can read all of Ebert’s capsule reviews of the ten films here. Click on any review on the list to read it in its entirety. As for the making of The Iceman Cometh, there are some fascinating behind-the-scenes tales told firsthand to me by the likes of Jeff Bridges in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein