Back in the crowded past, a favourite memory is walking out of a room in the Casino on Venice’s Lido, and seeing the figure of Donald Sutherland walking in. Unlisted in the daily update of guests, Sutherland was taking part in a panel discussion, but after the events of Don’t Look Now, seeing Sutherland alive and well in Venice was something of a novelty. One of cinema’s most idiosyncratic performers, Sutherland is always great to watch, whether the film is good or not, and he certainly gives a lift to veteran Tom Gries’ romantic thriller from 1973.
The lush Miami setting feels like something from Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen, and the drama starts out on the same hardboiled lines. A sweaty fence checks into a hotel, where gun-toting insurance investigator Andy Hammon (Sutherland) shakes him down for the jewels he’s carrying. Hammon works at a garage where he encounters Paula (Jennifer O’Neill), a rich trophy-wife who may also be a conduit for the kind of stolen diamonds he’s hiding. Hammon cheerfully steals her car, flirts with her, and works his way up to a proposition for a criminal partnership. Hammon also has the DOJ on his tail via the digged Ford Pierce (Robert Duvall) while her eccentric father Paul (Patrick Macgee) takes an instant dislike to him…
Restored and revived on Amazon Prime, Lady Ice is a thriller with quite a bit to offer; previous prints have looked dingy and near-unwatchable, whereas this incarnation looks as sharp and funky as Sutherland’s wardrobe. There’s heists, car-chases, scuba action and all kinds of mid-70’s blandishments, and the salty, anything goes feel delivers some choice moments. One implausible sequence sees Paula examining diamonds on a microscope in a speeding van while Hammon crashes his car against it; it’s pretty silly, but works in the context of the film’s on-going shaggy dog story.
So Lady Ice is worth a fresh look in this new streaming version? Absolutely, but be warned; there’s something shonky under the hood. This film has real script problems that come home to roost in the final act, which is underwhelming to say the least, despite several shoe-horned-in dialogue scenes clearly intended to move the goalposts. In the big climax, almost nothing happens, and the film ends with the most forced display of jocular, romantic laughter imaginable. It’s one of the worst endings on celluloid; a shame when much of Lady Ice has just the right kind of 70’s individualism to offer.