A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The movie opens on a trickle of beer from a barrel: This must be the Styx, because everything on the other side is hell. The camera tracks to the back room of an Irish saloon in Greenwich Village, summer, 1912, where the regulars are tossed about like sleeping rag dolls. Snores, snorts and cries of terror from fearful dreams. In the corner, one man remains awake, his cynicism too deep to allow easy dreams.
The man's name is Larry, and he used to be a Wobbly before he abandoned the movement for his own personal scorn of faith. The bartender wearily joins him at the table and they wait for the day. There are so many men in the room that is seems impossible we will eventually get to know them all, but we will, and also the three whores upstairs, and especially the man they are all waiting for, the iceman, Hickey.
The owner of the bar is named, ironically, Harry Hope. He has so long ago abandoned any hope that he has not even stepped outside his establishment in 20 years. This place is the end of the road, the bottom of the sea, Larry says. But every man except Larry has a "pipe dream" - something to keep him going. Tomorrow one of them will sober up and get his job back. Tomorrow the assistant bartender will marry one of the whores and make her respectable. Tomorrow. Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" is the work of a man who has very nearly abandoned all hope. The only characters in it who summon up the courage to act (not to act positively, but to act at all) are Hickey, who kills his wife, and the boy Don, who kills himself. Larry, who is always the most intelligent man in the room, comes to the conclusion at the end of the play that death is not to be avoided but even to be welcomed.
And yet the play sings with a defiant urge to live. The derelicts who inhabit the two rooms of this seedy saloon depend upon each other with a ferociousness born of deep knowledge of each other. The two old soldiers, for example, one British and the other Boer in the South African War, have almost gotten to love each other, so deeply do they depend on their ancient hate.