Archive for the Jim Brown Category

ICE STATION ZEBRA/1968/ROCK HUDSON

Posted in Adventure-Action, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Patrick McGoohan, Rock Hudson, Secret Agents and Spies on October 12, 2011 by Bill Courtney
ICE STATION ZEBRA
1968/Director: John Sturges/Writers: Alistair MacLean (novel), Douglas Heyes (screenplay)
Cast: Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, Jim Brown, Tony Bill, Lloyd Nolan, Alf Kjellin, Gerald S. O’Loughlin   
My dad was stationed on Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio Texas in the late 60’s. One of the little perks of being the son of a military dad was having the ID card that got me onto the base and then inot some cool places, like the bowling alley, the BX (base exchange), the cafeterias and of course the various bland looking movie houses. With my ID card it cost me all of 35 cents to see assorted spaghetti westerns, horror and sci-fi films, comedies and once in a while a real movie. Such was the case with Ice Station Zebra, a film I saw all alone in the base theater at about the age of eleven. Shot in stunning 70mm  with a dramatic score (restored in full with intermission music on the version I have) it was awesome to behold on the big screen and if I remember right I saw it about three times in a week.

The film is based, somewhat loosely I understand, on the 1963 spy thriller of the same name by Alastair MacLain. His earlier The Guns of Navarone was made into a successful movie with Gregory Peck and David Niven and MGM hoped to turn this new novel into another box office winner. The film in fact did well and earned a couple Oscar nominations for special effects and cinematography but lost out to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also revived the career of Rock Hudson as an action star after he had become somewhat typecast in his pillow talk movies with actresses like Doris Day. Charlton Heston was originally slated to play Hudson’s role as Captain Ferraday but declined saying the script was too weak. While Heston would have shone in the role Rock does just fine as the capable Captain of the USS Tigerfish as it heads towards the North Pole on both a rescue and top secret mission that involves British spies, Russian defectors, U.S Marines and not one single female character in the entire film.

The story begins in Scotland where Submarine Captain Ferraday (Hudson) is given the mission of taking the USS Tigerfish up under the polar ice caps to rescue the scientific team stationed at Ice Station Zebra following a reported series of explosions there. An overland, or over icepack, route is ruled out and Ferraday is none to pleased to receive orders that his command is second to a British spy named “Mr. Jones”, played by Patrick MacGoohan who took some time off from his The Prisoner TV series to do the film. Jones is brilliant but slightly jumpy and sleeps with a gun under his pillow and drinks plenty of “medicinal” whiskey to balance himself out. The rescue mission is actually a cover for retrieving a capsule that was ejected to Earth from a satellite. The capsule contains something that both the Americans and Russians are racing to the North Pole to get first. The Tigerfish later receive by helicopter two unexpected visitors. One is a constantly smiling and helpful Russian defector named Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) and the other is tough and disciplined Marine Captain Anders (Jim Brown).
Sabotage becomes a concern on the Tigerfish after a torpedo tube that is being used to launch a torpedo through the ice becomes filled with sea water and floods the torpedo room when it is opened, killing one sailor. Of course we know this guys is totally dead since right before they open the hatch he is talking about his wonderful future and the girl he wants to marry. Never talk about that stuff before a dangerous mission. Suspicions bounce from Mr. Jones to Vaslov and even to Anders.
The scenes of the Tigerfish under the ice look spectacular for the time really. Finally a thin enough layer of ice is found and the Tigerfish surfaces only to find Ice Station Zebra in smoldering ruins with scientific team all near death from exposure. In no time both Vaslov and Jones are looking for something and Ferraday wants to know what it is. We find out soon enough that Vaslov (and how can anyone trust a smiling overly helpful Russian, defector or not, during the Cold War period) is the saboteur after he waylays Jones with a crowbar. Jones mistakingly. shoots Anders when he wakes up groggy and sees the two mean fighting. It is soon learned that the capsule that landed at Zebra contained a Russian made camera with highly advanced American film inside, and soon the Russians, led by the serious and determined Colonel Ovstravsky (Alf Kjellin) arrive they and the Americans have a stand off over who goes home with the goods. In the end Ferraday detonates the canisters as it is hoisted upwards by a weather balloon, thereby symbolizing a draw between the two super powers. I have never read except in reviews and understand MacLean had a tenser and less optimistic ending.
A great movie for people who like Cold War thrillers and submarine dramas. The Arctic sets looked wonderful, and all the more wonderful since they are in fact studio sets. I love old movies sets and if this film is ever remade they will probably film it on location somewhere and while it will look more realistic it will lose that magic, perfect appearance that sets often provided a scene. There of course are some problems such as the fact that while we hear wind effects no one’s hear is even blowing, the lack of frozen condensation when people exhale and I read that keeping the parka laden actors free of perspiration was a difficult task. Really happy I found this one and highly recommend you give it a shot.

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