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The brainchild of producer Ely Landau, The American Film Theatre was a bold and revolutionary enterprise dedicated to the belief that a great segment of the movie audience do not want "to escape into sex and violence but want to think and feel."
The great talents of Broadway and Hollywood were enticed to join him and the result was fourteen magnificently crafted film productions based on the best plays of the 20th century. They represent a treasure trove of provocative stories, brilliant cinematography, and towering performances from the most important film directors and biggest stars of the period.
Long unavailable, all fourteen American Film Theatre productions have now been rediscovered, restored, and are ready for a new generation of theatre and film lovers.
"A majestic and thrilling achievement. Ely Landau and his associates have brought off something remarkable..." - Charles Champlin, The Los Angeles Times
"(four stars) Brilliant performances and a virtuoso directing achievement...A definitive film version." - Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times
One of the few still undiscovered treasures of American 70s cinema, John Frankenheimer's masterful interpretation of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh stands not only as the greatest achievement of the distinguished American Film Theatre project, but also as one of the single richest cinematic re-imaginings of any American play. Near the end of his brilliant and varied career, director Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, The Train) singled out the little known Iceman as "the best creative experience I ever had."
In the faded light of Harry Hope's 1912 skid row bar, a rag tag group of fallen men, each like a ghost haunting the wreckage of his own life, await the annual arrival of Hickey (Lee Marvin). This year, however, the charismatic Hickey brings not the usual rounds of drinks and pats on the back, but the unwelcome news that he's off the sauce for good and has come to persuade Hope's drunks to do the same. One by one, the regulars' booze-basted pipe dreams come under Hickey's leering microscope until finally the most shocking self-deception turns out to be Hickey's own.
Academy Award® winner Frederic March (The Best Years of our Lives, A Star is Born) leads an all-star dream cast in a final performance that the L. A. Times declared, "quite simply, perfect." Roger Ebert described Robert Ryan's (The Wild Bunch, The Dirty Dozen) characterization of Hickey's anarchist nemesis as "possibly the best of his distinguished career." But Iceman belongs to Lee Marvin, stepping out of the tough guy roles that made him a star into a haunting portrayal of the madman that hides beneath the smiling face of the life of the party. Hide this content.
Reunited for the only time after their triumph in Mel Brooks' The Producers, Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel catapult their shared genius for elegant slapstick, manic wit, and sly satire to a level of fearless absurdity that virtually no other comedy team would dare approach. Director Tom O'Horgan, originator of the Broadway smash hit Hair, transforms playwright Eugene Ionesco's "Theater of the Absurd" curio Rhinoceros into a fluid, character-rich screen comedy that The Hollywood Reporter dubbed, "an excellent film."
In the face of a modern urban life devoid of anything but an uninterrupted parade of dehumanizing compromise and disappointment, Stanley (Wilder) tenuously guards his fragile individuality in between gulps of booze. The only solace he enjoys is commiseration with his self-consciously sophisticated neighbor John (Mostel), and his unspoken adoration of a warmly sympathetic co-worker Daisy (70s cult object Karen Black). But as a surreal comic apocalypse begins to transform, one by one, everyone into a rhinoceros, the non-conformism that seemed like Stanley's downfall may be his only salvation.
Re-creating the role he originated on stage, Mostel delivers the most jaw-droppingly bravura performance of his career, playing off both Wilder's and his own incredulous terror as the fussy, prissy John metamorphoses (entirely without make-up or camera tricks) into a bellowing rhinoceros. Mostel, Wilder, and Black's generous characterizations and pitch-perfect comic timing streamline Rhinoceros's convulsive outrageousness into an ardent valentine to both knockabout screen comedy and Ionesco's experimental and timely satire.Hide this content.
Jean Genet, one of the most celebrated creative minds of the 20th century, receives an unbridled, expertly cinematic rendering in this long unseen film based on his perverse play. The Maids' volatile mixture of class confrontation, Freudian passion and criminal mischief frames an acid-etched portrait of two sisters whose hatred and desire twist their tortured lives together into a relentless downward spiral of guilt, degradation, and freedom at any cost.
Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class) and Susannah York (A Man For All Seasons) play Solange and Claire, Paris maids who tend to cruel socialite Madame's (Vivien Merchant) unending domestic needs. Whenever Madame is away, the sisters obsessively act out a complex role-playing psychodrama of domination and control that feeds their powerful lust for revenge upon the haughty, disdainful mistress they serve. But after falsely denouncing Madame's lover to the police, Solange and Claire's shared terror of arrest and the unchecked aggression with which they increasingly infuse their "ceremony" threaten to destroy them even as they perch on the threshold of ecstatic release.
Director Christopher Miles (A Time For Loving) and legendary cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Julia, Raiders of the Lost Ark) focus Genet's heady theatricallity into a riveting and dynamic cinematic experience. In a world where the lines are drawn between mistress, servant, confession, accusation, degradation, redemption, murder, and suicide become as fragile as French lace, the fatal truth remains that, "naturally, maids are guilty when madams are innocent." Hide this content.