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  Ice Station Zebra The Very Cold War
Year: 1968
Director: John Sturges
Stars: Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, Jim Brown, Tony Bill, Lloyd Nolan, Alf Kjellin, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Ted Hartley, Murray Rose, Ron Masak, Sherwood Price, Lee Stanley, Joseph Bernard, John Orchard
Genre: Thriller, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Out in space, a satellite is in orbit and despatches a capsule to Earth, but something has gone wrong... Not unconnected to this is the presence of Commander James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) in Scotland, meeting with a contact above a tavern and wondering what his next mission could possibly be. Admiral Garvey (Lloyd Nolan) is that contact, and he briefs the submarine captain on what he is supposed to be doing next, yet for some reason he is reluctant to give too much away. All he will say is that Ferraday must head to the Arctic, and accompanying him will be the mysterious British agent David Jones (Patrick McGoohan)...

Ice Station Zebra was not exactly a huge success in its day, but it did have one major fan in reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. So much so that he would call the Las Vegas television station under his ownership and ensure that it was playing whenever he wanted it to, which in effect meant over a hundred times. What's ironic about that is that if he had lived into the eighties and beyond, he need not have bothered requesting it because the film is surely playing somewhere in the world at each minute of the day, and indeed there are those who follow Hughes' lead and watch it just about every time it airs.

Yet while it's intriguing to picture one of the world's richest and most eccentric men sitting in his hotel room, beard down to his navel, fingernails a foot long, feet in tissue boxes, kicking back to forget his troubles of an evening with Rock, Patrick and company, it doesn't really say much about the quality of the film itself. There are other notable things about it, one being that there is not one female member of the cast, nope, it's blokes as far as the eye can see here. Another thing that perhaps has made it endure a little longer is that it was one of those movies based on a novel by Alistair MacLean, which might explain a little more obviously where the appeal lies to the countless men who have spent time with it down the decades.

Yes, it's a tale of manly men and their derring-do that is the main attraction, but oddly there isn't that much action and the whole thing could have done with being trimmed to tighten up the pace: nigh on two and half hours of, in turn, submarine capers and North Pole shenanigans is a bit much by anyone's standards. Fortunately, the cast features some big personalities, not simply a square-jawed Hudson (in what he apparently counted as his most favourite role - well, he is very butch in it) but McGoohan playing a spy in the movies after years playing one on TV, and bringing the same kind of idiosyncratic verve to it. Add to that two other cult stars, Ernest Borgnine with a wavering accent and a gruff Jim Brown, and you have enough to dominate the proceedings.

One of them, of course, is a spy for the other side, and we have to work out which as the submarine is sabotaged and nearly waterlogged thanks to someone tampering with the torpedo tubes. Given the conservative backdrop to this, it's perhaps not much of a surprise to learn exactly who has been performing misdeeds, but we know it can't be Rock, so it's either Patrick, holding his cards close to his chest, Ernest, as his character's Russian origins must count against him, or Jim, as he's that bit too aggressive with the men under his command. The submarine effects are not too bad as they head to the British research base of the title, but once out of the sea the whole thing looks hopelessly fake, which is surprising for the amount of money spent on it. Therefore if relics of the Cold War are your bag, then you could do worse than Ice Station Zebra, though it only springs into life in fits and starts. Music by Michel Legrand.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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