Bear Island (1979)
Here is the proof of why those big budget, all-star, international thrillers that were so popular in the 1970s died out. Bear Island is a creaky, slow, and positively underwhelming experience. What it lacks in thrills it more than makes up for in really bad accents.
Donald Sutherland stars as part of a scientific research team that is heading to Bear Island, a tiny, frigid outpost in the Arctic Ocean to try and solve the planet's upcoming climate change problem. Also on hand are Richard Widmark as the German head of the team, Vanessa Redgrave as a Norwegian nurse, Christopher Lee as a Russian scientist, Barbara Parkins, Lawrence Dane and Lloyd Bridges.
The plot involves everything from assassins, a missing WWII German U-boat, gold, nouveau Nazis and a mysterious figure only known by the code name 'Zelda.' I know it all sounds like material for an exciting thriller, but Bear Island is anything but. The big issue at hand involves the secret location of the German U-boat, which also happens to be the same one Sutherland's long lost Nazi father commanded, and after about, I dunno, a day and a half of searching, Sutherland finds it, but it would've been helpful if how he did it were explained to us, the audience. Why is the U-boat so important? It has lots of stolen and valuable gold aboard.
The discovery of the U-boat by Sutherland happens within the film's first half hour or so, and the rest of the movie has our band of scientists wandering around their facility and discussing what is completely obvious to us, which is, there are Nazis in their ranks! Parkins bites it from a man-made avalanche, and Lee dies from a collapsing radio tower, and everyone keeps eyeing each other suspiciously. The movie's big action scene, which involves Sutherland and Redgrave on snowmobiles being chased by a couple of baddies, is agonizingly protracted. I've seen entire movies that felt shorter than the last half hour of this one.
The first, big problem with Bear Island is how unlikable all of the characters are. Sutherland is surly and cheerless, Redgrave is a blank slate, barely cracking a smile or any other signs of emotion, Bridges is obnoxious, and the Germans are all painted in that same, offensive brush of sneakiness and villainy. Compounding all of this is the film's boneheaded decision to force all of these actors to don atrocious accents. Redgrave's is particularly garbled and hard to listen to, and Widmark seems to not only forget he's supposed to be playing a German in the middle of any given scene, he also forgets about it in the middle of just about every line of dialogue he utters.
So, yeah, it was a real chore to sit through Bear Island. It has a story that was impossible to care about even without the added problem of being nearly impossible to follow, and characters we couldn't wait see get bumped off fast enough. At least the scenery was pretty.