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Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Cue the words “fathoms” “sonar” and “attention all hands.”

If you guessed we’re in for a submarine journey, you guessed right.

Ice-Station-Zebra soundtrack

Once again John Sturges (The Great Escape) directs a motion picture dominated by male stars. This time out he’s enlisted Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown and Patrick McGoohan as his leading men in this cold war tale involving a downed space capsule with vital information that both the Kremlin and the Americans are after. Adapted from the novel by Alistair MacLean(Where Eagles Dare), the screen story is credited to Harry Julian Fink of Dirty Harry fame.

Lloyd Nolan turns up in Scotland just after the musical overture plays and a capsule lands in the Arctic. I might add that the opening F/X look very Toho like. Nolan assigns Rock to take command of a sub and get to the pole before the Russians. Destination is Ice Station Zebra. A northern weather station that looks like it could have subbed for the sets of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

ce Station Zebra - Submarine

Rock is told to give espionage agent McGoohan full cooperation along the way. McGoohan plays it cold and aloof when giving out any details of his mission north. Half way along their journey, a helicopter rendezvous’ with the sub to drop off our other above the title stars, Brown and Borgnine. Ernie is a Russian agent who has come over to the American side and has a long history with McGoohan. Brown joins the sub to take command of the platoon of marines on board previously led by Tony Bill. Brown will bring a military discipline to the youngsters who may see some action in the great white north. The former footballer doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

In a two and half hour submarine movie we can all expect certain plot devices including a heavy leak on board the torpedo room and the sub plunging to the depths of the ocean. Can the hull withstand the pressure per square inch as it slides to the murky bottom? How about radar pings? The tension rises as the men’s eyes begin to shift and prayers are heard being uttered low and in a whisperly fashion.

hudson and borgnine

Just who is trying to sabotage the mission? That’s what Rock is going to have to figure out as he steers the nuclear vessel under the ice cap in an excellently done scene of special effects. It’s more than obvious that a scale model and soundstage is “subbing” in for the pole over the final hour but that’s ok as it gives the feature a distinct look once all our converging players meet and battle over the prize.

Just what is the prize, I’m not saying. But it is of  national concern that it not fall into the hands of the Kremlin. Nuclear disaster awaits should Rock not figure out in time just who is on which side.

Sure this is no classic from Sturges who already gave us The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape among others. Who cares! It’s still a fun bit of escapism entertainment starring an in his prime Rock Hudson. Jim Brown and Ernie Borgnine must have flown from the set of the just completed Dirty Dozen to join up for this northern adventure while McGoohan perfectly fits into his arrogant agent role. I like McGoohan on screen but it’s his many stuffy roles like this one that can make it hard to warm up to him as an actor.

mcgoohan

Included on the blu ray release is the opening overture and intermission musical interludes which we don’t see anymore. Looking at films from the past that actually have them always seems to lend some level of importance to them at the time of their respective releases.

While this may be a tad long, I ‘ve never found it boring and acknowledge I’ve seen it more than a couple times over the years. Worth a look and dig that half sheet poster art. I’m gonna have to find one of these for the vault.

ice station half sheet

8 Comments »

  1. The movie’s pretty splendid and your writeup of it arguably even more so, but that’s a godawful set of portraiture on the original poster. The artist got Borgnine more or less okay, but the other depictions are dreffle. It’s odd, because during the 1950s (and earlier) it was more or less expected that artists’ poster portraits of a movie’s stars would be dire, but by the late 1960s we expected them to be either photographic or painted with a fair degree of fidelity to the reality. For example, the first Star Wars posters took liberty with the reality in their depictions of the characters, but you could still instantly recognize the principals. Her you could look at the poster for an hour and a half before realizing that the guy on the right is Patrick McGoohan or even that the guy in the middle is Rock Hudson.

  2. I read the novel in high school, but don’t remember much about it, except that I liked it. Never saw the movie, and wondered if it followed the same plot as the book. I don’t remember a downed space capsule in the book, but I might be wrong. And yeah, that half-sheet poster is awesome!

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