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Ice Station Zebra (1968)  

Review: written 2006

Alister Maclean thriller hits the right notes but at the wrong pace

The director, John Sturges, was unsurpassed at perfectly paced ensemble movies full of stars - The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape... Here, he is called upon to make a taut thriller from the effective MacLean story, and while the end result is an undeniably entertaining cold war thriller, it has a little too much flab round the edges to work as well as it should. Maclean’s original story has been substantially changed – par for the course for his movie adaptations, but as usual it’s a pity.

As a spy thriller, there is just enough to make an exciting 1 hour 30 minute movie - not the 2 ½ hour one on display here. But Sturges still has his moments, even if he is all at sea (sorry) without the ensemble cast. The scene with the sabotaged torpedo works well, and the tense stand off at the end makes Hudson finally look involved with the story.

Age has not been terribly kind to the movie, with the ice shots looking unconvincing the way studio set snow scenes normally do, and let's not mention the poor optical effects for the model planes. However, the movie gains a huge amount from having a real submarine to play with, giving a sense of reality that offsets the studio bound scenes. The casting may seem a little odd (Ernest Borgnine as a Russian??) but works surprisingly well - especially McGoohan who really fills the big screen, at a time when he was actually still filming `The Prisoner' on the small screen.

The DVD version has added the Overture music at the beginning and the intermission, which although quite a good score hardly seems worthwhile.

All in all, a good entertaining Sunday afternoon watch, but thank goodness for DVD technology which allows a pause for stretching the legs in the middle - you'll need it, and want it too, as you're unlikely to be glued to the screen.

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