Ice Station Zebra

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Putting the “cold” in Cold War.


Rock Hudson and his crew are ordered to the Arctic Circle to rescue a team of British scientists in what turns out to be the flimsiest cover for a classified mission in the history of classified missions.  A British spy joins the crew before departing and Jim Brown is rushed to the submarine to take command of a team of US Marines on board.  Ernest Borgnine, a Russian defector, rounds out the erstwhile rescue team.  As they approach the Arctic, it is revealed that a Russian satellite with some stolen intelligence equipment jettisoned its payload in the frozen waste outside the British station and the cargo must be recovered before the Russians can get it.  The inevitable betrayals and double dealings ensue as a saboteur begins undermining the mission.  But with a team of people who already don’t know, trust, or even like each other – who is the turncoat?


Coming (loosely) from the Alistair MacLean novel, the story is surprisingly cobbled together.  This effort shows the wear and tear of taking a suspenseful page turned and cramming it into a Cold War action flick – and losing sight of both of those targets.  Instead, the story is piece-mealed together like the “rescue” team and limps along through too few brief moments of tension.  The suspense of the novel is lost amidst effects-driven shots of the submarine forcing its way through the ice cap, soldiers trudging through the brutal elements, and Russian paratroopers that come across as little more than paper cutouts.


The conclusion of the film is as satisfying as the rest: ending in a “ho hum” stalemate that leaves the viewer feeling as unsatisfied as the commanders on both sides of the conflict and feeling icy at having wasted all that time stationed in the cold.


Stars: 2.5/5


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