Ice Station Zebra (1968)
September 3, 2023 1:19 PM - Subscribe

Rock Hudson is James Ferraday, commander of a US nuclear sub. Patrick McGoohan is Jones, a man about whom we know little but he's got papers signed by impressively high-up naval officer. An Arctic British weather-research station, Ice Station Zebra, is sending out distress calls; an enormous storm means the only way to get there to rescue them -- and do whatever it is Jones is on a mission to do -- is by submarine. An act of sabotage reveals that there's a mole on the ship. But who? And why?
posted by The corpse in the library (13 comments total)
I loved this. It is exactly what you think it will be, and I mean that as a compliment.

Trying not to spoil anything, but I have a question. At one point a character ironically calls another character "comrade," indicating he's figured out he's the commie. How did he work that out?
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on September 3, 2023

It's been awhile since the one time I watched ISZ from start to finish. It's a decent movie that is very much of its time. The acting is fine. The production is cool. The story is a bit much, but it works for me. I consider ISZ to be spiritually a part of Patrick McGoohan's Danger Man-The Prisoner saga.
posted by Stuka at 5:33 PM on September 3, 2023

I first saw this movie in a guy's backyard, projected on a bedsheet, in January, in Minnesota. It was a sense-surround experience that was both great and terrible and so wintery you'd hardly believe it without the irish hot chocolate that kept our fingers from total frostbite. In retrospect I'm ashamed that the weather upstaged such a stellar cast but what can you do? I did get a big kick out of the fact that Jimmy McGill used this title as his DBA in the Better Call Saul show. I guess he was a fan too?
posted by traveler_ at 7:37 PM on September 3, 2023 [2 favorites]

I remember there being some real excitement around the flug sr. household when this was first broadcast on TV. Might have been in 1972?

The scene where they crashed through the ice sheet at the North Pole was particularly memorable - or perhaps even more so, the one where they tried but failed. I seem to recall 8-year-old flug being quite concerned about all the submariners cruising around underneath the vast arctic ice sheet and being unable to surface and get some air whenever they might need it.
posted by flug at 8:16 PM on September 3, 2023

I believe I read Alistair MacLean' book at a sufficiently young age to be mildly disappointed there was no actual zebra. I do note that both the book at the film were based on this real life event from 1959. Must re-watch!
posted by rongorongo at 1:30 AM on September 4, 2023

Originally shot in Super Panavision 70.

Second unit photographer John Stephens developed several innovative underwater camera systems, as seen in the documentary "The Man Who Makes The Difference."
posted by Marky at 2:11 AM on September 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

The last time I watched this movie (previous to rewatch) was—gawd—about half a century ago, on broadcast TV. The only part that stuck with me was the beautiful but not terribly convincing special effects shot of the rear projected clouds reflecting off the metallic body of the MIG fighters. And then suddenly the Russians are flying F-4 Phantoms!
Also, I thought it was a little strange when the sub crew wear red goggles and use red lights on the sub to acclimate their eyes to darkness, then go up top and it's daylight. Maybe that was supposed to be la nuit américaine, I don't know. Pretty solid movie though.
posted by jabah at 4:56 PM on September 4, 2023

I've wanted to see it simply because it was Howard Hughes' favorite movie, and in his OCD-ridden last decade, would call up a TV station in Las Vegas and tell them to run it, which he apparently did over 100 times.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2023 [6 favorites]

Something about this film that occurred to me on further reflection is just how much as guy's film this is. It's basically about four guys who don't trust each other. There aren't any real relationships in the film. There aren't any women! Not even in incidental roles…none!
posted by jabah at 7:07 AM on September 5, 2023

Yeah, I'm a devout feminist who obsessively keeps an ear out with every movie I watch looking for the slightest chance of it passing the Bechdel Test -- and yet I also love submarine movies. Maybe because I can just give up and relax, knowing there's no chance at all of two women interacting.

(Yes, yes, there are exceptions, I know.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:56 AM on September 6, 2023 [2 favorites]

This aired on TCM not too long ago. I've seen it a couple times. As a resident of an often frozen part of America the Arctic scenes looked OK at first but by the final confrontation it seemed so artificial I kept thinking "they must be sweating buckets in those parkas under those hot studio lights".
posted by Ber at 8:05 PM on September 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

The young person I was watching with asked if this was from the same era as the original Star Trek when they got to those big chunks of ice.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:20 PM on September 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

I casually watched this recently. I saw it many years ago, must have been on tv. But I didn't remember much, as it felt pretty new to me. Yes, holy moly is this a guy movie! No women at all. Probably an unintentional act of mercy, as women in movies of this style and vintage are rarely treated with any gravitas.

This kind of serious movie that doesn't really play all that well these days because it's all serious, grouchy dudes. That said, it works ok and managed to hold my attention for its relatively long run time. The special effects are a mixed bag. The underwater submarine scenes look pretty convincing, the ice station set looks very sound stage-y, and the Soviet fighters are very model-y. The sabotage sub plot is exciting enough, but doesn't really add much to the story overall, IMO. And the lack of attention to detail and continuity makes it feel like a bit of obsolete moviemaking. Stuff like the Soviet planes changing inexplicably non-Soviet might have been acceptable 10 years earlier, but contemporary movies with more vigorous attention to detail, like 2001 makes ISZ feel cheaper.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:24 PM on December 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

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