Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cold War Boredom: Ice Station Zzzebra

By Steve Evans

Curiosity finally got the better of me so I just watched what turned out to be one of the worst, more boring films I've seen -- Ice Station Zebra (1968). A Cold War espionage thriller, characters fight each other at the climax on a laughably obvious soundstage dressed to resemble the Arctic. The special effects are bad. Paratroopers look like green plastic GI Joe men dropped from string-and-vinyl parachutes onto a tabletop diorama. The submarine might be a bathtub toy. Rock Hudson's acting range can be measured in centimeters. Ernest Borgnine does a ludicrous Russian accent. And Patrick McGoohan is just as strange in this film as he was on the cult TV show, The Prisoner, which is perhaps the ne plus ultra of 1960s weirdness on television, although Green Acres gives it some competition. Ice Station Zebra isn't so much weird, as inept. It appears expensive, but in the way shiny things look when created by people with lots of money but no talent or taste. Worth a look to see spies running around the North Pole without proper coats, gloves or even steam coming off their breath from the frigid air. Filmed in the wide-screen process known as Cinerama, which will be lost on television or a laptop.

The film was based on a novel by Alistair MacLean, whose Guns of the Navarone had been made into a thrilling WWII adventure with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthomy Quinn in 1961. Whereas that film followed the road to greatness, Ice Station Zebra takes the opposite path. Disappointing as hell, as this was directed by John Sturges, who helmed The Great Escape and the original Magnificent Seven.

I finally. finally watched this old bore only because it was sitting there on the library's DVD shelves this week, and I felt a sense of obligation. Decades ago the picture got a publicity boost when it was reported to be Howard Hughes' favorite film. He apparently watched it more than 150 times in the final years of his life, haunting his penthouse in the Las Vegas Desert Inn. So I was curious, Now, while the verdict's still out on me, Hughes was clearly out of his damned mind. Watching Ice Station Zebra over and over may have been the poor billionaire's tipping point.

On a related note, another famous lunatic, Charlie Manson, has been chillin' in the hospital this week with critical intestinal problems according to news reports and may not come out alive, which is long overdue. Then again, Manson isn't boring. I don't know his favorite film, but if I did, I suppose I'd watch that one, too. Couldn't be duller than this.

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