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Green Ice (1981)

GREEN ICE (1981)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I have always had a soft spot for heist movies, whether it be big budget heavyweights such as “The Italian Job” (both of them), the “Ocean’s” movies (including the Sandra Bullock reboot) or the lesser known efforts such as the Robert Shaw thriller “Diamonds” or the brilliant “11 Harrowhouse” I am always amazed at the audacity and ingenious methods employed.

So it’s perhaps no surprise then that the Ryan O’Neal 1981 action adventure thriller “Green Ice” is one of the select few titles I imported on Region 2 DVD and why I was pleased to see it offered as a digital download on Amazon Prime thanks to distributor Shout! Factory. I first saw the movie on British television sometime in the 1980s and the viewing is tied into a nostalgia for a bygone era when all I had to worry about was getting my homework in on time.

To refer to the movie as a heist movie is also somewhat untruthful since, although a heist does play a role in the movie, the usual heist movie tropes of planning and executing the heist are somewhat under developed here. The heist is merely a plot mechanism to drive the story along. The motivation here is also altruistic, as opposed to the usual greed or revenge, and the movie spends a great deal of time establishing its unselfish credentials in what becomes a significant plot point.

Ryan O’Neal plays Joseph Wiley, a down-on-his-luck, recently divorced and recently unemployed electronics engineer who escapes to Mexico to lick his wounds. He meets the fabulously wealthy and influential Holbrook (played by the gorgeous Anne Archer) during his drive and the two strike up a friendship, seemingly platonic at first but with an undercurrent of mutual attraction. Wiley whisked away to Colombia by Holbrook’s friend Meno Argenti (Omar Sharif) to assess the security on an emerald vault and is soon embroiled in a plot involving emerald smuggling, revolutionaries, corrupt Army officers and a vicious emerald concession.

Incidentally, Archer had just completed “Raise the Titanic” when she made this movie. Both movies are favorites of mine, and both were complete flops. Still, I love them both and have been an admirer of Archer ever since. This was years before she finally made it big as the wife in 1987s “Fatal Attraction” (why Michael Douglas’ character would cheat on Archer in that movie is beyond belief).

Some have compared this to 1984s “Romancing the Stone,” but other than sharing the same location of Colombia and involving gems, the two are very different movies (in an interesting sideenote Mexican actor Manuel Ojeda has roles in both movies, playing two very similar characters). “Green Ice” lacks the high almost slapstick comedy of the later movie and personally I would rate the 1981 film as the better of the two because of it.

The troubled production history of the movie is revealing in the uneven tone of the movie. For unspecified reasons the original director Anthony Simmons left the project in the middle of filming to be replaced by second unit director Ernest Day. This change at the helm seems to give uneven scenes of extreme action and dull unenthusiastic drama.

Perhaps the real fault why Green Ice did not ignite the box office can be summed up in producer Lew Grade’s estimation which was that the movie was “quite a nice little film, but in the end, too much like a TV movie.” It has that breezy feel to it certainly, but if this is a TV movie, it’s one that has stood up to many repeated viewings over the years.

This movie is well worth a look, but I would recommend a rental rather than a buy. It is a nostalgic favorite of mine and so I am biased.


In the Andes mountains, a group of archaeologists are murdered af while trying to smuggle uncut emeralds. Back in New York Joseph Wiley (Ryan O’Neal) is down on his luck and runs off to Mexico where he meets Lillian Holbrook (Anne Archer). The two are instantly attracted to each other, but Lillian is on her way to meet Meno Argenti (Omar Sharif), the man who intends to marry her. Wiley is mistakenly drawn into periloud adventure when  a mysterious caller tells him to look at stolen emeralds erroneously left in his hotel room. Discovering her sister has been killed and suspecting Argenti, Wiley and Lillian plan a daring raid on his vault of emeralds – green ice.


Ryan O'Nealas Joseph Wiley
Anne Archeras Lillian Holbrook
Omar Sharifas Meno Argenti
Domingo Ambrizas Miguel
John Larroquetteas Claude
Philip Stoneas Jochim Kellerman
Michael Sheardas Jaap
Enrique Luceroas Lucho
Manuel Ojedaas Lt. Costas
Tara Fellneras Kerry
Sandra Kernsas Woman at Bar
Raúl Martínezas General Martinez
Enrique Novias Naval Officer


The Spinning Image
When a young American woman is caught and killed for attempting to smuggle emeralds out of Columbia, her sister Holbrook (Anne Archer) teams up with rakish adventurer-cum-electronics expert Joseph Wiley (Ryan O’Neal) to investigate. They discover that millionaire crime kingpin Meno Argenti (Omar Sharif) is almost single-handedly upholding the corrupt regime so he can continue mining a fortune in emeralds. Aided by a small band of revolutionaries Wiley and his sidekick Claude (John Larroquette) attempt to steal the emeralds from a vault on the top floor of Argenti’s hi-tech skyscraper. Meanwhile, the evil millionaire plans to make Holbrook his wife.

A glossy albeit creakily old-fashioned romantic adventure yarn, Green Ice got caught in the whirlpool when Sir Lew Grade’s ambition to become a movie mogul sank with spectacular irony after Raise the Titanic (1980) proved a disastrous flop. Given the inclusion of a characteristic Maurice Binder title sequence complete with glamorous women adorned in emeralds and camera operator-turned-first time director Ernest Day’s background handling second unit on The Spy Who Loved Me(1977) – for which he allegedly staged the chase sequence involving the submersible Lotus – and Moonraker (1979), Grade evidently envisioned a James Bond style extravaganza. As an operator active since the late Forties, Day worked extensively with David Lean while his work as a cinematographer ran the gamut from A Passage to India (1984) to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). His skilful lensing leaves the film handsomely shot but far too leisurely paced and tonally all over the place. For example, the opening scene is pretty harrowing as Holbrook’s sister is almost raped then shot but immediately afterwards the jaunty score by erstwhile Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman (an odd combo of synth pop, flamenco guitars and Tijuana brass) heralds a jarring cut to Ryan O’Neal bopping along in happy-go-lucky fashion till he meets stranded hottie Anne Archer. The film was presumably meant to be light-hearted but features several instances of brutal violence including one scene where a man is fed to some flesh-eating pigs.

Based on a novel by Gerald Browne, whose fixation with jewel heists is evident from his other screen adaptation: crime comedy 11 Harrowhouse (1974), Green Ice sports a muddled political outlook that suggests it may have started out as a more ambitious thriller before being run through the ringer with four screenwriters including novelist-turned director Anthony Simmons, who made The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973), television writer-producer Robert De Laurentiis, bit-part player Ray Hassett in his only screenwriting credit and veteran Edward Anhalt. A prolific scribe, Anhalt penned some substantial movies like Panic in the Streets (1949), The Boston Strangler (1968) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972) though he also wrote the Elvis Presley flick Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and Jerry Lewis farce Boeing Boeing(1965).

As Holbrook learns her sister was smuggling emeralds to help fund the revolutionaries’ cause, the plot starts to revolve around her dilemma between living in capitalist comfort with the amoral Argenti or risking all for some shaky political convictions. Though the film seems to side with the quasi-Marxist revolutionaries (remarkably so, given Anglo-American foreign policy in Latin America at the time) its depiction of self-righteous rebel leader Miguel (Domingo Ambriz) appears deeply conflicted. When Miguel compares his terrorist activities to the exploits of Robin Hood, Wiley remarks that Robin Hood never blew up airports or murdered innocent civilians but is fobbed off with some rather shallow rhetoric. Given Miguel coldly executes any peasant foolish enough to make off with any emeralds yet comes to a sticky though ostensibly “noble” end, its is hard to tell precisely what sort of political point is being made. If any, given the film also has the heroes infiltrating Argenti’s skyscraper by means of hot air balloon in a sequence with some dodgy rear projection set to an atrocious Wyman composition performed by Maria Muldaur of Midnight at the Oasis fame.

Ryan O’Neal’s stardom was already on the wane by the time Green Ice hit theatres. Though his attempt to convince as a devil-may-care charmer are hampered by the one constipated expression he wears throughout, he does share fine chemistry with co-star Anne Archer. It is actually rather pleasant to see Archer looking so glamorous before Fatal Attraction (1987) more or less typecast her as a harried housewife, though she fails to appear in the skimpy outfit shown on the poster. Boo-hiss. Omar Sharif classes up the joint with another dose of his suave villainy though by this point he was routinely repeating his role from Henri Verneuil’s infinitely superior The Burglars (1971). Keep an eye on his character’s bizarrely homoerotic love-hate relationship with a minerologist played by British character actor Michael Sheard who later played the despicable Mr. Bronson on high school drama Grange Hill. The stunt sequences were arranged by Bond stalwart Vic Armstrong but by contrast with his ground-breaking work on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) that same year, are merely passable despite the fairly suspenseful finale where Wiley rigs his beach house with booby traps.


Green Ice (1981) Review


Still entertaining after all these years This movie is well worth a look, but I would recommend a rental rather than a buy. It is a nostalgic favorite of mine and so I am biased.

Leading Lady Appeal

About The Author


Born on the English-Scottish border I emigrated to the US after graduating college in 1995 and became a U.S. citizen in 2007. I have served in the U.S. military and my past positions include as an Assistant Managing Editor of The Washington Post Company, a technical writer working on technical documentation for both a construction company and a large government contractor, a graphic designer creating graphics in support of government contract proposals, and as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Navy. which included being assigned as the official writer for the Navy and DoD on the assumption ceremony of a new Secretary of the Navy. I am currently a Web Services Writer for a large government contractor in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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