Bear Island (1979)

Bear Island was another in a series of VHS-format Alistair MacLean adaptations that I got on eBay.It's one more example of a film I was unaware of, for good reason.

In this case — unlike that of Caravan to Vaccares, for example — I'll give the producers / screenwriters the benefit of the doubt. They were working with a middling MacLean story, rather than one of his better tales, so it was natural that they'd be tempted to make changes. Still, creating an entirely different plot under the Bear Island title leaves a bad taste. This film's only similarity to the book (apart from a few character names) is that evildoers are trying to liberate Nazi gold from the frigid, inhospitable Bear Island.

MacLean's book depicts a movie production company en route to Bear Island for some filming. Nearly half the story takes place aboard their ship as it steams toward the island. The film features a United Nations crew studying the environment or some such, and after the opening credits it takes less than ten minutes for them to climb ashore.

The surprisingly high-level cast appears to be just "going through the motions." Donald Sutherland, as the protagonist, is wholly non-believable, whether conversing with others or fist-fighting the bad guys. He pronounces "Nazis" as if it rhymed with "patsies." At one point, he loudly tells a compatriot who he suspects is behind the violence; it's the sort of thing one would furtively whisper, knowing the baddies could be nearby.

Other "name" actors include Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, and Lloyd Bridges. Christopher Lee hams it up in a smallish part, a far cry from his later memorable performances in roles such as Count Dooku in the second set of Star Wars movies and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series. One interesting coincidence: a secondary character is played by a Canadian-born actor named Michael J. Reynolds. Alistair MacLean fans will recall that Michael Reynolds is the protagonist of The Secret Ways (my favorite MacLean novel).

It doesn't help that the cast spends much of its time clad in bulky parkas; it's hard to keep track of which faces are peeking out from some of those hoods.

This movie provides some diversion for action movie fans who enjoy chase scenes, explosions, brawls, and so forth. Apart from that, I can't think of a reason for anyone (especially MacLean fans) to watch it.


(2 out of 10)