Bear Island is a 1979 film based on book by Alistair MacLean that I read when it first appeared as a paperback. As a teenager, I was a huge MacLean fan, and devoured all his novels, including a couple written under the name of Ian Stuart. Although he was an action thriller writer, he often used devices familiar to whodunit fans, above all "the least likely suspect", and this is why I preferred his books to those written by other thriller writers of the time such as Desmond Bagley (though I really did like Bagley), Duncan Kyle and so on.
I also watched several of the films based on MacLean's books, such as Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, When Eight Bells Tolls and Puppet on a Chain. Some were relatively faithful to the source, whereas others (notably Ice Station Zebra) were not. The problem I began to find with MacLean was that the quality of his work began to deteriorate, and Bear Island was the last of his novels that I really enjoyed. By the time I got into student life, my reading tastes had shifted, and I didn't bother to watch the film of Bear Island.
Had I done so, I would have found that, once again, the screenplay bore little resemblance to the book. There's a starry cast, led by Donald Sutherland as the daring hero, joining up with an expedition to a remote frozen island in the North Atlantic Unfortunately, Vanessa Redgrave, cast as the love interest, is wholly wasted as a Norwegian medic, and her accent is as dodgy as Richard Widmark's attempted German accent. Christopher Lee, who is rarely less than excellent, is not at his best, either, while Lloyd Bridges takes the role of Sutherland's trusted friend (and regular readers of MacLean will know what that means....)
The action scenes are very well done, but the story is laboured and over-long. I wanted to see what the landscape of Bear Island really looks like, and felt cheated when I learned that the film was shot in Canada and Alaska, because the landscape there is more photogenic. All in all, this film is a decent time-passer, but not as good as, say, Where Eagles Dare. Watching it has, however, reminded me of my long ago enthusiasm for MacLean, and I'm tempted to write more about him in the future.