Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ice Station Zebra

Ice Station Zebra (John Sturges, 1968) The movie that was (supposedly) Howard Hughes' favorite movie—one that he would watch obsessively.

One can only wonder why.  It is not exactly inspired, entertainment, though competently directed by John Sturges.  It was also one of the last of the prestigious "roadshow" presentations , shot in "Super-Panavison-70" and featuring "Overture" music and an Intermission at the theater.  But, beyond that, the film may be one of the dullest thrillers ever filmed. 

ISZ has the same stolid air of other adaptations of Alistair MacLean adventure yarns (The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare).  It's just not as adventurous, and the locations—studio-created—are claustrophobic and closed-in, as opposed to having any dramatic vistas or intriguing locales of other MacLean stories.  Here, it's meeting rooms, a submarine and a burned out polar station on a floating ice flow.  People don't get out much, and the whole film feels close and boxed-in (quite a trick in "Super-Panavision-70). Oh, there are intrigues—it wouldn't be a MacLean story if there wasn't one or two double-crosses thrown in—but they're fairly typical.  The sub' has to have a debilitating leak, and as befitting a Cold War drama (the coldest!), there are dueling loyalties and the to-be-expected double-agent (but who?).  It never rises above the slightly edgy to the exciting and is mostly cliché-ridden, especially when it comes to the "whodunnit" aspects.

Fairly good cast with not much to do except glower at each other, and top-liner Rock Hudson isn't at his best at that, and is ham-strung by the script (by MacLean, Douglas Hayes—he wrote Kitten with a Whip, after all—Harry Julian Fink, and W.R. Burnett, no slouches, any of them) from doing anything interesting, like humor.  Patrick McGoohan has one interesting scene where he loses it, but mostly he's clipped and acerbic in hyper-Danger-Man mode.  Jim Brown matches him frown for frown—twin performances by actors playing characters hating each other, and Ernest Borgnine does a Russian accent.  A lot of testosterone, mostly going to waste, in material which is stretched to the breaking point.

Supposedly there's going to be a remake, so there's a lot of room for improvement. 

Patrick McGoohan recreates my expression watching this movie

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