Saturday 26 November 2022

Movie Review: Ice Cold In Alex (1958)

A World War Two desert adventure, Ice Cold In Alex is a gripping battle for survival in unforgiving terrain.

The setting is Libya in 1942, and the British are about to face a second siege in Tobruk. Captain Anson (John Mills) of the Motor Ambulance company is suffering from battle fatigue and a drinking problem, and is ordered to evacuate through the desert towards Alexandria. Separated from other ambulance trucks, Anson and his capable Sergeant Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews) pick up two British Army nurses left behind in the evacuation chaos. Diana (Sylvia Syms) is calm and steady; Denise (Diane Clare) is easily frazzled.

At a refueling station, the burly Captain van der Poel (Anthony Quayle) of the South African army joins them. van der Poel is quick to ply Anson with gin, but his physicality and ability to negotiate with Germans prove invaluable as the traveling party encounters the advancing Afrika Korps. Anson realizes he has to shape up to navigate the arduous trek ahead, and arriving safely in Alexandria becomes a personal quest bordering on obsession.

A perilous sand-in-the-teeth military journey, Ice Cold In Alex builds momentum by placing one obstacle after another in the path of a small but resourceful group. Here the war is background context, and only a few bullets are fired in anger. Writers Christopher Landon and T. J. Morrison (adapting Landon's 1957 novel) are more interested in tracking levels of character determination as a scrappy motley crew overcomes each challenge and moves on to the next, with all their strategic options equally grim.

Director J. Lee Thompson makes best use of the desert expanse to create a desolate and relentless setting, the ambulance truck (nicknamed Katy) an added character subjected to the harsh conditions. Minefields, quicksand, daunting hill climbs, enemy forces, injuries, mechanical failures, and spy activity all stand in the way of Alexandria, not to mention scarce water and fuel supplies. 

Inside the ambulance, Anson has to overcome physical and emotional scars to gradually accept the leadership challenge. At 50 years old, John Mills is willing but undeniably too old for the role, and this becomes awkwardly apparent as 24-year-old Sylvia Syms' nurse Diana instigates a romance. Thankfully Anthony Quayle is frequently nearby, his muscular and seemingly indestructible presence a potent catalyst in most situations. Whether sweet-talking the Germans or supporting the ambulance's weight on his back, Quayle's van der Poel becomes an essential but still vaguely mysterious team member.

The title refers to the ice cold beer Anson intends the group to enjoy upon arrival at his favourite Alexandria hotel. Even the most modest rewards will need to be earned with exhaustive sweat.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.