Thursday, November 03, 2016

Ice Station Zebra

Alistair MacLean’s 1963 novel ICE STATION ZEBRA, set in the Arctic, was the inspiration for this big-budget MGM Cold War thriller, though scripter Douglas Heyes (writer of many excellent MAVERICK and TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) deviated often from it.

Known as Howard Hughes’ favorite movie, ICE STATION ZEBRA has garnered quite a following in the decades since its release, despite its stolid pacing and old-fashioned production values. It earned Academy Award nominations for its special effects and cinematography, and its legend stretches to TV’s BREAKING BAD, which named a fictional business after the film.

It’s hard to know who to trust in this paranoia-fueled espionage thriller. Except Rock Hudson, of course. You could always count on Rock Hudson. The Rock plays Captain Farraday, the commander of a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine who is assigned to investigate a tragedy at a British weather station. Though as Admiral Garvey (Lloyd Nolan) tells Farraday, rescuing survivors is not the reason for his mission — only the excuse.

The only man aboard the sub who does know the true mission is Jones (THE PRISONER star Patrick McGoohan), an eccentric British agent whose ally is a Soviet defector, Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine). Also on board: Captain Anders (Jim Brown), a martinet who assumes command of Lieutenant Walker’s (Tony Bill) Marines. What are Marines doing aboard a Naval submarine on a rescue mission to a civilian science station? Farraday doesn’t know, and part of the film’s mystery is picking apart everyone’s motives and orders.

It’s usually satisfying to watch professionals perform a job well, and ICE STATION ZEBRA ticks off all the right boxes as it chugs turgidly along. The cast is tough enough, and the heroics are enhanced by Michel Legrand’s score. Heyes’ screenplay, however, based on a screen story by Harry Julian Fink (DIRTY HARRY), bears too little story to sustain the film’s epic length (which also includes an overture and an intermission), and you may be checking your watch during the eighty minutes that it takes director John Sturges (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) just to get to Ice Station Zebra.


Unknown said...

I love the book. Just reviewed it last week on my blog.

Thomas Miller said...

This movie was filmed in Cinerama, the 3-camera technique, and shown in special Cinerama theaters with wide curved screens, similar to today's Imax.