Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Rock Hudson, and Patrick McGoohan in Ice Station Zebra (1968)


(director: John Sturges; screenwriters: from the novel by Alistair MacLean/screen story by Harry Julian Fink/Douglas Heyes/W.R. Burnett-uncredited; cinematographer: Daniel L. Fapp; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Michel Legrand; cast: Rock Hudson (Cdr. James Ferraday), Ernest Borgnine (Boris Vaslov), Patrick McGoohan (David Jones), Jim Brown (Capt. Leslie Anders), Tony Bill (1st Lt. Russell Walker), Lloyd Nolan (Admiral Garvey), Alf Kjellin (Colonel Ostrovsky); Runtime: 152; MPAA Rating: G; producers: James C. Pratt/Martin Ransohoff; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1968)

“A conventional Cold War thriller whose flatness keeps it from being as suspenseful as it should be.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A conventional Cold War thriller whose flatness keeps it from being as suspenseful as it should be. The realistic shots of the submarine, shot in Super Panavision, provide the film’s best feature but they are not enough to counter both the story’s tedium and the phony look (the “exterior” was done on a too obvious soundstage set). It’s directed by John Sturgess (“Bad Day at Black Rock”/”The Great Escape”/”The Satan Bug”) and based on the 1963 action novel by Alistair MacLean. Harry Julian Fink turns in the average screen story and Douglas Heyes the average script.

American nuclear submarine captain Jim Ferraday (Rock Hudson) while on duty in Scotland is given secret orders in person by Admiral Garvey (Lloyd Nolan) to go on a special rescue mission to a British weather station called Ice Station Zebra at the North Pole in response to faint distress calls. Garvey tells him that’s not the real reason he’s being sent, but even if he knew the reason he still couldn’t blab–it’s that top-secret and important. Jim’s told there will be a passenger who knows the true mission and he will be in command and will let the captain know what’s up when the time comes. The mystery passenger turns out to be a British intelligence agent given the code name of David Jones (Patrick McGoohan). Later Jim will learn the mission is to recover a capsule from a grounded Russian space satellite containing stolen Western technology and reconnaissance photographs of U. S. and Russian missile sites. Also aboard Jim’s ship, of note, are Russian communist defector Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), and two U. S. Marine officers, Lieut. Russell Walker (Tony Bill) and Capt. Leslie Anders (Jim Brown, former NFL star). Problems arise when a saboteur aboard almost succeeds in sinking the submarine by an explosive fire. It takes the capable crew to repair the damage and regain normal depth. Jim suspects Vaslov, but Jones points his finger at Anders.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

When the sub reaches Ice Station Zebra, they find that the place has been gutted and that the Brits are frozen corpses. Jim is troubled to learn that a Russian aircraft is approaching and Russian paratroops under the command of Colonel Ostrovsky (Alf Kjellin) land in the area. Jones is knocked cold by an unseen party and recovers to find Anders and Vaslov fighting. His philosophy is when you believe you’re right despite no proof, shoot the American. But Vaslov turns out to be the turncoat and attempts to hand the recovered capsule over to fellow Russian Colonel Ostrovsky. Jones redeems his mistake by violently taking Vaslov out of play before he can succeed in aiding the Russkies. Jim destroys the capsule before the Russians can secure it on their aircraft, and the American and Russian commanders, in the climax, agree to keep this incident secret from the public and make out the mission is an example of the friendly cooperation between the two superpowers.

The film surprisingly turned out to be a commercial hit.


REVIEWED ON 12/28/2006 GRADE: C+