1960s Ice Station Zebra

Published on July 27th, 2012 | by Chris


Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Reviewed by:
On July 27, 2012
Last modified:October 2, 2012


A fun 1960's Cold War Movie thrill ride in a submarine and in the frozen arctic tundra.

As we've established already, I have a weakness for good submarine movies.  Not entirely sure why, but there it is.  So I finally got around to watching the espionage/cold-war thriller (and sub movie!) Ice Station Zebra, and had a blast.

First off, this isn't Schindler or Private Ryan or Platoon, lets get that clear.  Ice Station Zebra is a plain old action spy movie in the vein of 007 or Red October or Patriot Games, etc.  In fact, it reminds me a lot of those later types of movie.

Basically, the USS Tigerfish and her Captain, Farraday (Rock Hudson) are called upon to take British Operative Jones (Patrick McGoohan) and a band of Marines to Ice Station Zebra, a remote scientific outpost in the Arctic on a top-secret hush-hush mission.  Along the way they pick up Russian-turned-Good-Guy Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) and Marine Capt. Anders (Jim Brown.)

As with any good trip, getting there his half the fun, and that's exactly what happens here.  Between episodes of on-board sabotage and the ensuing "wtf are we doing here, Jones?" drama, there's plenty of suspense to go around.  Then of course, we finally arrive at Zebra, and the mission is revealed... (No spoilers!)

While the movie may be short on combat, the cold war ramifications are patently obvious.  Its us vs. the Soviets here, no question.  (see the clip below) Although I still don't understand the final actions and motivations of Jones.  Maybe its in the book, and didn't get expanded on here, I don't know.   I have a feeling a lot of character development was lost in the screen translation.

Solidly acted (mostly, see below), solidly written, and with a stunning soundtrack.  In fact I wish more of today's longer films would indulge in self-appreciating features like the "Overture" and "Intermission."  I find myself paying more attention to the soundtrack *during* the film when I've had a taste of it all by its lonesome.

I'm sure its rife with inaccuracies and military faux-pas.  I noticed several, such as the mysterious MIG's near the end which seem to have cloaking devices which can suddenly make them appear as F-4 Phantoms.  Little things like "ship vs. boat", etc.  And the visual effects are admittedly sub-par.  But then again, it is 1968.  Most of the film (the arctic scenes especially) is unashamedly filmed in a studio, which is unfortunate.  (reprise 1968 comment!)   Although, the tilting submarine set is fairly impressive.  If they were "leaning into it" so to speak, I could not tell.  It sure appeared that the set itself was tilted during key scenes.  (And after a bit of cursory research, turns out it actually was!)

McGoohan is the real star of Ice Station Zebra, IMO.  His "No. 6" persona really (really) takes the show.  Hudson is solid, not spectacular, and Borgnine is his classic self, no fault there.  JIm Brown and his character seem to be the odd man out.  Like the direction involved "hey Jim, just act pissed off and that'll do nicely.  Yeah, like that," or something.  His character didn't seem to have a purpose, but whatever.

Overall, its just a good clean exercise in how to do action spy thrillers...  I give it a generous 7/10.  Probably not for everyone, especially if you're weaned on modern effects and action, but give it a shot.

Oh, and the best thing? It didn't get muddled up and slowed down by any sort of pretense of a romantic subplot.  See, Hollywood, it can be done!


And here's another clip...

and it makes its Blu Ray debut in October, see the next tab!!

Ice Station Zebra (BD) [Blu-ray] Ice Station Zebra (BD) [Blu-ray]
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Ice Station Zebra (BD)Academy Award-winning Cold War thriller based on Alister MacLean's bestseller stars Rock Hudson as an American nuclear submarine captain in a deadly race against the Soviets to find a downed satellite beneath the polar ice cap...

DVD Information

Binding: Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audience Rating: G (General Audience)
Brand: Warner Manufacturing
Manufacturer: WarnerBrothers
Original Release Date:
  • Rock Hudson
  • Ernest Borgnine
  • Patrick McGoohan
  • Jim Brown
  • Tony Bill


  • Brand Name: Ingram Entertainment Mfg#: 883929247134
  • Shipping Weight: 0.37 lbs
  • Manufacturer:
  • Genre: DRAMA
  • All music products are properly licensed and guaranteed authentic.


Customer reviews
Average Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this is an awesome movie. In the beginning the shot of the ..., April 16, 2017
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This review is from: Ice Station Zebra (Amazon Video)
Although made before I was born, this is an awesome movie. In the beginning the shot of the satellite and music reminded me of some scenes from Star Wars. A lot of the submarine scenes reminded me of The Hunt For Red October. The only negative thing I can say about the movie is that the Marine Lt at the end did something that was unrealistic, distracting, and didn't add to the plot. Maybe they were just showing that sometimes during the Cold War there were casualties written off as accidents. Who knows... Also, having the Paratroopers and Marines walk towards each other right after a firefight is kind of silly. Anyway, if 60's special effects annoy you, this isn't the show for you. Also, if you are looking for every detail to be technically correct, you won't like this. After all, the Russian jets that were used in the end started off looking correct, but then they clearly used some American jets as stand-ins. But the drama going on at that point makes up for it. Highly... Read more
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated Cold War Thriller, April 22, 2017
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This review is from: Ice Station Zebra (Amazon Video)
I first saw ‘Ice Station Zebra’ in the late 1960s on a big screen with my parents. I recently watched it for the first time in years and I still enjoyed it. The color cinematography was what most impressed at the time. I was also fascinated by the technology. The idea of a nuclear powered submarine sailing under the North Pole was novel.

The film is based upon Alastair MacLean's 1963 bestselling novel of the same name. It involves a mission to rescue British scientists trapped at the North Pole. An American nuclear submarine is sent to investigate. This is a Cold War spy adventure so nothing is at it seems. Maclean’s plots are convoluted and there is always a twist at the end. MacLean served in the British navy during World War II before becoming a school teacher and then a successful thriller writer. His books have often been turned into movies (e.g., The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and Force 10 from Navarone).

John Sturges was good at directing... Read more
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ice Station Zebra was first screened in Dimension 150, and it looked great., December 11, 2012
Paulo Roberto Elias (Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ice Station Zebra (BD) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Most people today have no idea of the scope (no pun intended) of the projection system used for films like Ice Station Zebra, called Dimension 150, a very large and curved screen format.

I was lucky enough to get it in the heydays of the 70 mm craze, and I can peacefully testify that although this Blu-Ray edition is quite good, the picture itself loses in composition and framing terms, significantly diminishing the impact of the movie presentation.

Of course, my personal judgement relies on a hi-def 55" LCD, perhaps those with a front projector and larger screens could appreciate it much better.

That aside, ISZ is a typical "cold war" thriller, like so many done during that period, and it is not bad. I am not sure if the genre would appeal to younger audiences but it certainly does to film fans and collectors.
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Ice Station Zebra (1968) Chris



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About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.

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