Ice Station Zero (1968)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/11/19
Cast: Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown

"I'm impressed. Not enlightened, but impressed."

The race is on to recover a capsule from a satellite that crashed near a British polar weather station called Ice Station Zebra. An air approach is impossible due to bad weather, so Captain Ferraday (Rock Hudson) heads to the North Pole via submarine under the pretense of a rescue mission. His VIP passengers include an unsavory British spy named Jones (Patrick McGoohan), a Russian double-agent named Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), and a US Marine captain named Anders (Jim Brown). The first hour and a half takes place aboard the submarine as it tries to break through the arctic ice. The final hour takes place on the ice cap at the burnt remains of Ice Station Zebra, where the Americans run into an armed Russian task force with the same objective.

It's a slow-burning Cold War thriller that's rife with paranoia and intrigue. Normally, the glacial pacing of the story would drive me crazy, but the film is served well by an interesting and engaging cast of characters, some great actors, and some outstanding photography. The submarine scenes are great, but the film sputters to a halt once they reach the weather station. The visual effects range from bad to good. Most of the miniature submarine shots look great, while others are embarrassingly tacky. The Soviet jet fighters also made me wince, but they're pretty impressive given the age of the film. While there's not a lot of action, the film is overflowing with tension and the submarine is like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Both Rock Hudson and Patrick McGoohan deliver great performances, and McGoohan excels at being a shifty and despicable character. As he puts it, "I know how to wreck them [submarines], and I know how to lie, steal, kidnap, counterfeit, suborn, and kill. That's my job. I do it with great pride." It's definitely a male-centric film and it's interesting to note that there are no female characters at all. Only one woman shows up in the entire film, and she's in the background of a pub scene for a matter of seconds.