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Ice Station Zebra (1968) is a nifty thriller of spies, submarines and saboteurs that captivated no less a personage than Howard Hughes, who reportedly watched it hundreds of times. You certainly won't regret watching it once and TCM has spared you the expense of a personal screening room. Director John Carpenter also picked it as one of his guilty pleasures stating, "Why do I love this movie so much?"
The film kicks off with a special mission for a submarine captained by Rock Hudson. He's sent to a British weather station at the North Pole in response to garbled and faint distress calls but Hudson barely suspects the real reason: A Soviet satellite with photos of numerous missile sites crashed to Earth somewhere in the station's vicinity. Until the sub's arrival, Hudson has his hands full with the bickering suspicions of a Soviet defector (Ernest Borgnine from The Wild Bunch, 1969), a U.S. officer (Jim Brown, former Cleveland Browns fullback) and a British intelligence agent (Patrick McGoohan of the cult classic The Prisoner). Their suspicions turn out to be accurate when somebody sabotages the submarine but even more surprises await them at the weather station.
In 1963, Alistair MacLean's novel Ice Station Zebra was the latest of his popular string of smart thrillers. The rights were snapped up the following year by producer Martin Ransohoff hoping to capitalize on the success of another MacLean adaptation The Guns of Navarone (1961). Filming was set to begin in April 1965 with Gregory Peck playing the sub captain and David Niven, Edmond O'Brien and George Segal in the other key roles. But scheduling conflicts and an objection from the Department of Defense that the film incorrectly portrayed military life derailed production. A new script was written but due to conflicts the original cast was replaced when shooting finally began in Spring 1967. It lasted for nineteen weeks ending that October. The film was released in fall of 1968 and turned out to be a hit that gave a needed boost to Rock Hudson's career. It also received two Oscar® nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Special Effects. Somewhere along the line W.R. Burnett--who wrote the novels Little Caesar (1930) and High Sierra (1941)--worked on the screenplay uncredited. Tony Bill (who played Lt. Walker) later started a busy career as a director with My Bodyguard (1980).
Director: John Sturges
Producer: James C. Pratt, Martin Ransohoff
Screenplay: Douglas Heyes
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Editor: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Addison Hehr
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).
C-152m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Lang Thompson