Bear Island (film)

Bear Island is a 1979 Anglo-Canadian thriller film loosely based on the novel Bear Island by Alistair MacLean. It was directed by Don Sharp and starred Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee and Lloyd Bridges.

Bear Island
Cinema poster
Directed byDon Sharp
Produced by
Written byDon Sharp
David Butler
additional material
Murray Smith
Based onnovel Bear Island by Alistair MacLean
Music byRobert Farnon
CinematographyAlan Hume
Edited byTony Lower
Distributed by
Release date
  • 5 December 1979 (1979-12-05) (South Africa)
  • 27 December 1979 (1979-12-27) (UK)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish, German
Budget$CAD12,100,000 (estimated) or $9.3 million[1]


A UN expedition of scientists from different countries come to barren arctic Bear Island, between Svalbard and northern Norway, to study climate change. However, several of them turn out to be more interested in the fact that (according to the film) there was a German U-boat base on the island during the Second World War. American scientist Frank Lansing (Donald Sutherland) has come because his father was a U-boat commander who died there, and as accidents start to decimate the expedition he begins to realise that some of his colleagues are after a shipment of gold aboard the U-boat that his father commanded.



The original novel was published in 1971 and became a best-seller, selling over eight million copies. "It will make a whopping good movie," wrote the Los Angeles Times.[2]

Film rights were purchased by Canadian-born Peter Snell who had lived in England since 1961. Snell set up the film in Canada, which was experiencing a film boom due to the assistance of tax concessions in 1976 allowing the write-off of losses on films that qualify as sufficiently Canadian. Snell wanted to make a film that targeted the international market; there would be no Canadian characters and the film was not set in Canada. However Snell and several of the actors and most of the crew were Canadian.[3]

"Three in every eight households have a MacLean novel," said Snell. "He's certainly sold better than Ian Fleming. The James Bond pictures are fast running out of gimmicks. Action-adventure will always work better in the long run if you stay away from gimmicks."[1]

The film would be the most expensive made in Canada until that time, costing over $9 million.[4] Of the budget, $3.3 million came from the British arm of Columbia Pictures, $3 million from the Canadian radio and cable television company, Selkirk Holdings, $1.8 million from the Toronto Dominion Bank, $1.2 million from the Bank of Montreal, and $100,000 from the Canadian Film Development Corporation.[1] The Bank of Montreal lent the producers money to make the film. When they could not raise it, they were forced to become investors.[5][6]

Snell had the film rights to six other MacLean novels, three of them not written.[1] Snell and Selkirk were so positive about Bear Island's prospects that at one stage they planned a series of Alistair MacLean adaptations for annual Christmas release, starting with The Way to Dusty Death.[3][1] Don Sharp was hired to write and direct.

While the interiors were shot in Pinewood Studios outside London, the outdoor scenes were shot at Stewart, British Columbia and at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, depicting a much more dramatic landscape than the real Bear Island offers.[1] "Audiences can tell styrofoam snow," said Snell.[1] Filming started 22 November 1978 in Stewart, British Columbia.[7] Location filming in Stewart and Glacier Bay took three months. A Soviet ship was used to transport the unit.[1]

The Swedish invention called Larven (The Caterpillar) by Lennart Nilsson is used in the chases around the island.

"We're delighted to be working on an international picture", said second unit director Alan Simmonds. "But co-productions can be a one-way street. The whole mentality of the film is English or American - the style, the amount of money. We're good, we know we're good, but the moneymen won't take a risk on Canadians."[3]


The film was a flop at the box office.[8]


  1. Adilman, Sid (11 March 1979). "Bear Island: The Film That Stayed out in the Cold". Los Angeles Times. p. m6.
  2. Hughes, Dorothy B. (5 December 1971). "MacLean Writes as Man of the Sea". Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File). Los Angeles, Calif. p. z72.
  3. Plommer, Leslie (30 March 1979). "Canada among the victims in the big Canadian films". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ontario. p. 13.
  4. Medved & Medved, The Hollywood Hall of Shame (1984), p. 204
  5. Harmetz, Aljean (20 November 1979). "Boom in Canadian Film Making Hits Snag: Explosion in Canadian Movies Stuck With the Movie 'A Necessary Shakeup' Begging for Distribution Shortage of Producers'". New York Times. p. C7.
  6. Lee, Grant (13 January 1979). "FILM CLIPS: Canadians Shooting for the Big Leagues". Los Angeles Times. p. b10.
  7. Kilday, Gregg (11 December 1978). "FILM CLIPS: Is O'Neal Set to 'Suffer or Die'?". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. f21.
  8. Adilman, Sid (30 December 1985). "Worst Canadian performers of the year award". Toronto Star. Toronto, Ontario. p. D1.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.