Frozen In Time
"Ice Station Zebra" is another prime example that even if you have the seemingly perfect cast and crew it doesn't mean that you will have a perfect movie. Here you have director John Sturges who gave us "The Great Escape" working with an Alistair MacLean story who wrote "The Guns of Navarone" and a cast which features Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine and Patrick McGoohan but it fails to work. There are moments in "Ice Station Zebra" which deliver great promise yet it ends up all a little dull and unexciting, making you grateful when things finally come to close.
When weather station Zebra on the North Pole starts sending out distress signals, US naval Commander Jim Ferraday (Rock Hudson - Send Me No Flowers) is given the orders to take his submarine and crew on a rescue mission. But he also has to take David Jones (Patrick McGoohan) a civilian who also has a mission, a top secret one at that as well as picking up a team of marines, Captain Leslie Anders (Jim Brown - The Dirty Dozen) and anti-Soviet Soviet Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine - The Flight of the Phoenix). It soon becomes apparent that it's no ordinary rescue mission especially when someone tries to sabotage his sub.
"Ice Station Zebra" starts very well with a sense of mystery around it as all the main players get put into place. So we get Ferraday in charge of his sub where he picks up a series of mystery men on his way to a supposed rescue mission on the North Pole. It makes it interesting because you want to know why Jones is so important, why Vaslov is also needed and also Captain Anders and it delivers a sense of all is not what it seems. It gets even more interesting as it becomes apparent that there is a saboteur on the sub leading to it nearly sinking and the guessing games begin as to who the bad guy could be. But the trouble is that once they reach the North Pole and things start to be explained, what the mission really is and so on, it becomes dull and often fails to raise the excitement to a level where it grabs your attention.
It is very much for the first half of "Ice Station Zebra" where it is at its most gripping and director John Sturges gets the most out of the set up. He creates a marvellous sense of tension as Ferraday is not so happy going on a mission that he knows little about and you do get a sense of the claustrophobic feel of a submarine. When the sub nearly floods Sturges again capitalizes and delivers one of the movies most exciting scenes as the torpedo room starts to flood with people trapped inside. But then once it moves to the icy surface of the North Pole it feels like Sturges struggled to find the tension in the storyline and the whole atmosphere is lost as the action becomes formulaic. And it's not helped by the fact that the recreation of the North Pole looks a little shaky in places with what I can only presume is an abundance of polystyrene rocks.
As for the acting well Ernest Borgnine is entertaining as Boris Vaslov and Patrick McGoohan really creates a wonderful sense of mystery around his character David Jones as does Jim Brown as the strong, silent Capt. Leslie Anders. But sadly things are let down by the casting of Rock Hudson as Commander James Ferraday who struggles to find the right character. Obviously handsome in a heart throb sort of way, Hudson just doesn't deliver a strong enough performance as someone in charge of a sub and a group of men, he's too much one of the guys so to speak and it makes it a little unbelievable.
What this all boils down to is that "Ice Station Zebra" whilst entertaining never becomes anything more than just average. It has some wonderful moments of drama and tension as well as mystery, but there are too many long moments where nothing really exciting ever happens. It also doesn't help that whilst Hudson was a good actor he was just wrongly cast to be a submarine commander and is over shadowed by performances from Patrick McGoohan and Ernest Borgnine.