Monday, 21 November 2011

Review - Ice Cold in Alex (1958 - Dir. J. Lee Thompson)

The first thing that hits you about Ice Cold in Alex is the music. I think that a slight bit of cheeky tributing has been done by John Williams when composing the Star Wars score. Just have a listen to the trailer at the end of the review and you'll hear what I mean. Dirty little homager.

Anyway, on with the film. I know this wouldn't have been obscure at the time, but I'd never heard of it until a colleague at work told me to give it a look (along with the quality This Happy Breed). Captain Anson (Sir John Mills) is given the unenviable task of driving two nurses to Alexandria. Doddle. He's setting off from Tobruk though. Okay, still not too bad. Nazis are lurking about around every sand dune shooting at them, they have to cross mine fields and quicksand, and they're driving an old clapped-out ambulance with limited supplies of water and food. Ah. Rather you than me, mate.

Anson is ably assisted by Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews), a very affable sort of fellow, the kind of bloke you'd like to have a pint with, get him to fix your car and then have a game of darts with him. Also along for the ride is the slightly more unsavoury Captain van der Poel (Anthony Quayle), a South African hitchhiker with a bag full of gin that Anson, being a big alcoholic, covets like his neighbour's ox. 

The story is very linear. It's basically a road trip without any side quests. Just keep going until you get to Alexandria. This means that you can disengage your brain (quite easy for me) and enjoy the ride. Even if it is on a bumpy ambulance. You get to fully appreciate the four leads and the numerous scrapes they get themselves into, including a beautifully lit run-in with the aforementioned quicksand. (One of my major fears, surely one of everyone's major fears?)

Bear in mind that this was made in 1958 and you can let it off for having slightly dubious gender politics. Sister Diana Murdoch (Sylvia Syms) is told at one point to stop worrying about her make up and get pushing the ambulance. I won't spoil one of the top calamities of the film but have a guess who's responsible. The fellas soon put her in charge of the bags, metaphorically speaking, and sort the problem out in a very stoic British kind of way. Then they get her to make sandwiches and butter the malt loaf while they have a game of cricket. And while they all go down the pub for pints and back slapping, she does the washing up. Er, maybe not. I think that scene was cut out of this version.

(Image not taken from the film - funnily enough.)

All in all a quality Sunday afternoon kind of film. Gently paced for the majority of the time, with a smattering of excitement and tension along the way. Granted, there's a completely unnecessary (and preposterous) romantic entanglement but you can forgive this minor slip, due to the film's uncomplicated, clear storytelling. (It's also quite funny that the best beer in the whole of the Middle East turns out to be Carlsberg. They may as well have made it Strike lager for the local Happy Shopper equivalent.)

If you like this you could also try:
This Happy Breed, Since You Went Away.

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