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Ice Station Zebra (1968)

John Sturges’ masterclass in how to adapt mediocre material for the big screen takes Alistair MacLean’s potboiler and produces a Cold War thriller that relies on claustrophobic tension.

The story begins in Scotland where Submarine Captain James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) is given the mission of taking the USS Tigerfish up under the polar ice caps to rescue the scientific team stationed at Ice Station Zebra following a reported series of explosions there.


Ferraday is none too pleased to discover he will be second-in-command to a British spy named “Mr Jones” (Patrick McGoohan) who sleeps with a gun under his pillow and drinks plenty of “medicinal” whiskey to balance himself out.

The rescue mission turns out to be a cover story for retrieving a capsule that was ejected to Earth from a satellite, containing a Russian-made camera with highly advanced American film inside – and now both the Americans and Russians are racing to the North Pole to get to it first.

The Tigerfish later receives (by helicopter) two unexpected visitors – a constantly smiling Russian defector named Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) and the tough and disciplined Marine Captain Anders (Jim Brown).

Sabotage becomes a concern on the Tigerfish after a torpedo tube becomes filled with seawater and floods the torpedo room when it is opened, killing one sailor. Suspicions bounce from Mr Jones to Vaslov and even to Anders.

The Tigerfish eventually surfaces only to find Ice Station Zebra in smouldering ruins with the scientific team all near death from exposure. In no time both Vaslov and Jones are looking for something and Ferraday wants to know what it is . . .

We discover that Vaslov is the saboteur after he waylays Jones with a crowbar (how can anyone trust a smiling overly helpful Russian during the Cold War?) but Jones mistakenly shoots Anders when he wakes up groggy and sees the two men fighting.

The Russians arrive, led by the serious and determined Colonel Ovstravsky (Alf Kjellin), and a standoff ensues over who goes home with the goods.

The Arctic studio sets look wonderful, and Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine and Lloyd Nolan give solid performances. But it’s a fresh-off-The Prisoner Patrick McGoohan who steals the movie as wily intelligence agent David Jones.

Commander James Ferraday
Rock Hudson
Boris Vaslov
Ernest Borgnine
David Jones
Patrick McGoohan
Captain Leslie Anders
Jim Brown
Lieutenant Russell Walker
Tony Bill
Colonel Ostrovsky
Alf Kjellin
Lieutenant Commander Bob Raeburn
Gerald S. O’loughlin
Lieutenant Jonathan Hansen
Ted Hartley
Lieutenant George Mills
Murray Rose
Lieutenant Edgar Hackett
Sherwood Price
Lieutenant Courtney Cartwright
Michael T. Mikler
Lieutenant Mitgang
Lee Stanley
Dr Jack Benning
Joseph Bernard
Earl MacAuliffe
Jim Dixon
Paul Zabrinczski
Ron Masak
Cedric Patterson
David Wendel
Bruce Kentner
Boyd Berlind
Lyle Nichols
Ronnie Rondell Jr
Craig Shreeve
Ted Kristian
Wade Graham
Lloyd Haynes
Michael Grossman
Michael Rougas
Edward Rawlins
Buddy Garion
Gary Downey
Timothy Hirsch
Don Newsome
Lieutenant Carl Mingus
T.J. Escott
Robert Carlson
Peter Costigan
Jed Allan
Buddy Hart
Admiral Garvey
Lloyd Nolan
Philip Munsey
Bill Hillman
Dennis Alpert

John Sturges