Ice Station Zebra (film)

Ice Station Zebra (film)

Infobox Film
name = Ice Station Zebra

caption = Original film poster by Howard Terpning
director = John Sturges
producer = James C. Pratt
Martin Ransohoff
John Calley
writer = Alistair MacLean
Douglas Heyes
Harry Julian Fink
W.R. Burnett
starring = Rock Hudson
Ernest Borgnine
Patrick McGoohan
movie_music = Michel Legrand
distributor = Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
released = October 23, 1968
runtime = 148 minutes
language = English
imdb_id = 0063121
music =
amg_id = 1:24251
budget =

"Ice Station Zebra" is a 1968 action film directed by John Sturges, starring Rock Hudson as the submarine captain, Patrick McGoohan as a British agent, Ernest Borgnine as a Russian defector and Jim Brown as a Marine Captain. It is loosely based upon Alistair MacLean's 1963 novel of the same name.


A satellite reenters the atmosphere and ejects a capsule which parachutes to the Arctic. During an ice storm, a figure soon approaches, guided by a homing beacon, while a second individual secretly watches from nearby.

Shortly, Cmdr James Ferraday (Hudson), captain of the U.S. nuclear attack submarine USS "Tigerfish" (SSN-509), is ordered by Admiral Garvey (Nolan) to mount a priority mission to rescue the personnel of "Drift Ice Station Zebra", a civilian weather station moving with the ice pack. However, the mission is actually a cover for another highly classified assignment.

Ferraday welcomes aboard British intelligence agent Mr. "Jones" (McGoohan) and a Marine platoon. While underway, a SH-2 Sea Sprite helicopter delivers Captain Anders (Brown), who takes command of the Marines, and Boris Vaslov (Borgnine), an amiable Russian defector and spy and friend of Jones.

The "Tigerfish" makes its way under the ice to "Zebra"’s last known position. Ferraday decides to use a torpedo to blast an opening in the thick ice. However, the torpedo tube is open at both ends and seawater floods in, plunging the sub toward its rated crush depth. Ferraday and his crew are barely able to save themselves. Since this malfunction should be impossible, Ferraday concludes there is a saboteur. However, the mission is too important to abort.

Finally locating an area of thin ice, the sub surfaces. Ferraday, Vaslov, Jones, and a rescue party set out for the weather station. They reach "Zebra" to find buildings burned down and the scientists nearly dead from exposure. Jones and Vaslov begin questioning the survivors. It becomes obvious that the two spies are looking for something.

Jones reveals to Ferraday that an advanced experimental British camera was stolen by the Soviets, along with an enhanced film emulsion developed by the Americans. The Soviets sent it into orbit to detect the locations of all the American missile silos. However, the camera malfunctioned and photographed their missile sites as well. A second malfunction forced a landing in the Arctic. The scientists were caught in the crossfire between arriving Soviet and British agents.

Ferraday sets his crew to searching for the capsule. Jones eventually finds a hidden tracking device. He is ambushed and knocked unconscious by Vaslov, who turns out to be a double agent. Before Vaslov can make off with his prize, he is confronted by Capt Anders. As the two men fight, a dazed Jones wakes up and, not having seen his assailant, shoots and kills the wrong man.

Ferraday remains suspicious of Vaslov, but allows him to use the tracker to locate the capsule. They are interrupted when Russian paratroopers land at the scene. Their commander, Colonel Ostrovsky (Kjellin) demands that the U.S. forces turn over the capsule. Believing that the Americans have already secured the canister, the Russian commander threatens to activate the it's self-destruct mechanism with his transmitter. Ferraday stalls while the hidden Vaslov defuses the booby-trapped capsule and takes out the film. Ferraday hands over the empty container, but the deception is revealed and a brief firefight breaks out. In the confusion, Jones finds Vaslov, kills him, and retrieves the film.

Ferraday orders Jones to hand over the film. However, Ferraday had earlier found a device identical to Ostrovsky's. The Russians send the canister aloft by balloon to be picked up by an approaching aircraft. At the last moment the incoming jet is clearly revealed to be an American F-4 Phantom (not the expected MiG) prompting Lieutenant Walker to tackle the Soviet soldier holding the detonator to prevent him from actuating the self destruct (Walker is shot in the process). Instead, Commander Ferraday then activates his detonator destroying the film. Note that this is a paradoxical ending. It is left open as to why Ferraday would choose to destroy the film when it was about to fall into friendly hands.

Ostrovsky concedes that "the incident is closed" and leaves, allowing the "Tigerfish" to complete the rescue of the civilians. The film ends with a dissolving segue into a shot of a teletype machine churning out a news story hailing the success of the "humanitarian" mission as an example of superpower cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Differences from the novel

While based on Alistair MacLean's 1963 Cold War thriller, the film version diverges from its source material.

The most obvious changes involved the names of the novel's characters:

* The submarine "Dolphin" became the "Tigerfish".
* The British spy Dr. Carpenter was renamed David Jones.
* Commander Swanson was changed to Commander Ferraday.

Beyond the name change, the film's submarine has a more traditionally conventional design similar to the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS|Nautilus|SSN-571|2, rather than the more streamlined, teardrop-shaped vessel, either the contemporaneous "Skipjack" or "Permit" design, as described in the novel.

Additional characters were added, such as Soviet defector Boris Vaslov, Marine Captain Leslie Anders, 1st Lt. Russell Walker, and a U.S. Marine platoon trained in Arctic warfare. Much of the characterization involving the submarine's crew found in the novel was jettisoned in favor of these new cinematic creations.Unlike the novel, there is little overt Soviet interest in recovering the lost spy satellite other than a spy ship disguised as a fishing trawler waiting outside Holy Loch when the "Tigerfish" sets sail.

The novel's climax of a fire onboard the submarine is substituted with the nearly fatal flooding of the forward torpedo room that occurs before the film's intermission.

The film's new climax involves a superpower confrontation between Soviet paratroopers and the American marines, but concludes on a more ambiguous note than the novel, reflecting the perceived thaw in the Cold War following the Cuban Missile Crisis.


The film rights to the 1963 novel were acquired the following year by producer Martin Ransohoff who hoped to capitalize on the success of adapting another Alistair MacLean novel to the silver screen as a follow-up to the 1961 blockbuster "The Guns of Navarone".

"Navarone" stars Gregory Peck and David Niven were initially attached to this film, with Peck as the sub commander and Niven as the British spy, plus Edmond O'Brien and George Segal in the other key roles. Filming was set to begin in April 1965, but scheduling conflicts and U.S. Department of Defense objections over Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay and its depiction of naval life onboard the submarine delayed the start.

A new script was commissioned, but due to scheduling conflicts, the original cast was no longer available when filming began in Spring 1967. Principal photography lasted nineteen weeks, ending in October 1967. "Ice Station Zebra" was photographed in Super Panavision 70 by Daniel L. Fapp. The nuclear-powered "Dolphin" (renamed "Tigerfish" (SSN-509)) was portrayed in the movie by the diesel-electric Guppy IIA submarine USS|Ronquil|SS-396 when filming took place in August 1967.

Second unit cameraman John M. Stephens developed an innovative underwater camera system that successfully filmed the first continuous dive of a submarine, which became the subject of the documentary featurette "The Man Who Makes a Difference".

Because his TV series "The Prisoner" was in production during principal photography in "Ice Station Zebra", Patrick McGoohan had the episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" re-written to have the mind of his character Number Six transferred into the body of another character.

"Ice Station Zebra" was released on October 23, 1968, and was presented in 70 mm Cinerama in premiere engagements, which also featured an opening overture that was restored for its 2005 DVD release. The film became a major hit, which gave a much needed boost to Rock Hudson's flagging career.

"Ice Station Zebra" was nominated for two Academy Awards, in the special effects category ("" won instead) and Best Cinematography (won by "Romeo and Juliet").


*Rock Hudson as Commander James Ferraday, USN
*Ernest Borgnine as Boris Vaslov
*Patrick McGoohan as David Jones
*Jim Brown as Captain Leslie Anders, USMC
*Tony Bill as 1st Lieutenant Russell Walker, USMC
*Lloyd Nolan as Admiral Garvey, USN
*Alf Kjellin as Colonel Ostrovsky, the Soviet commander

Cultural impact

Reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who had experience both as a movie producer and a defense contractor for the U.S., is said to have watched "Ice Station Zebra" dozens of times on a continuous loop in his private hotel suite during the years prior to his death. VCRs and Laserdiscs weren't yet available: The film was shown in the form of a spooled print running through a film projector onto a traditional screen.

"Arctic Splashdown", an early episode of the popular "Jonny Quest" prime-time cartoon series of 1964, seems to be closely based on the "Ice Station Zebra" plot.

The sets and miniature footage from "Ice Station Zebra" was re-used for the 1971 ABC made-for-television movie "Assault on the Wayne", starring Leonard Nimoy, Joseph Cotten, Keenan Wynn, William Windom, Sam Elliott, and Dewey Martin, which also featured "Zebra" cast members Lloyd Haynes and Ron Masak. []

Footage from "Ice Station Zebra" (and the model of the "Swordfish") was also re-used in the 1978 disaster film "Gray Lady Down", the 1983 James Bond film "Never Say Never Again" and the 1983 Cold War thriller "Firefox".

In the 1986 animated series "Defenders of the Earth", "Ming the Merciless"' Antarctic base of operations is known as "Ice Station Earth," a possible nod to the movie "Ice Station Zebra".

In the original 1999 edition of Unreal Tournament, one of the deathmatch levels is named Ice Station Zeto, in honor of the movie "Ice Station Zebra".

The third and final secret level in the Descent 2 expansion 'Vertigo Series' is named "Ice Station Zeta." An episode of the animated series "The Venture Bros.", called "Ice Station -- Impossible!", takes the inspiration for its name from "Ice Station Zebra".

An episode of "Sealab 2021" has researchers in the Antarctic trapped on 'Ice Station Zebra'.

The first episode of Sam & Max Season Two was called 'Ice Station Santa'.

An episode of the original Battlestar Galactica was called Gun on Ice Planet Zero. As the title implies, its frigid setting recalled "Zebra" while its plot was similar to another military film of the 1960's, "The Guns of Navarone".

The NRO declassifed information stating that "an individual formerly possessing CORONA access was the technical advisor to the movie" and admitted "the resemblance of the loss of the DISCOVERER II capsule, and its probable recovery by the Soviets" on Spitsbergen Island, to the book by Alistair MacLean. [cite web | title = National Reconnaissance Office Review and Redaction Guide, Appendix F | url = | date = 2006 | accessdate = 2008-01-26]



* Lawrence H. Suid. "Sailing the Silver Screen: Hollywood and the U.S. Navy" (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996) ISBN: 1557507872
* [ Article] @ Turner Classic Movies

External links

* [ Movie review at (German)]
* [ Article] @ Turner Classic Movies
* [ TCM Database entry]

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