Monthly Archives: September 2013

How cold could the cold war get? Pretty cold: Ice Station Zebra (1968)

You may ask JPFmovies “Why Ice Station Zebra” as a choice for one of the cold war trilogies?  Our interest in the film stems more from the movies biggest fan that the film itself: the one time wealthiest man in the world Howard Hughes.  The Reclusive billionaire (and this is in the 1970’s) Hughes, had experience both as a movie producer and a defense contractor for the United States, watched a private print of Ice Station Zebra 150 times on a continuous loop in his private hotel suite during the years prior to his death.  The film is the epitome of cold-war era espionage films it stared Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine, and NFL legend Jim Brown.  The films screenplay is loosely based upon 1963 novel of the same name that has roots to in real events that apparently took place in 1959.

As was typical in the cold war, NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations were in a race for something: a satellite and ejected a capsule which parachuted to the Arctic Ocean ice pack.

Leading the race for the U.S. was Commander James Ferraday (Rock Hudson), captain of the U.S. nuclear attack submarine USS Tigerfish (SSN-509), stationed at Holy Loch, Scotland.  He is ordered to rescue the personnel at Ice Station Zebra, a British civilian scientific weather station moving with the ice pack.  However, the mission is actually a cover for a highly classified assignment.  As he soon discovers a secretive Mr. “Jones” (Patrick McGoohan) and a platoon of U.S. Marines are aboard his boat.  While underway, a helicopter delivers combat Commander Captain Anders (Jim Brown), who takes over the Marines, and Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), an amiable Russian defector and spy, who is a trusted colleague of Jones.

The Tigerfish makes its way under the ice to Zebra’s last-known position.  But the ice is too thick so they decide to use a torpedo to blast an opening.  It really doesn’t work out too well as the crewmen suddenly find the torpedo tube is open at both ends, killing one crewman and sending the sub sinking until its breaking point.  While the sub recovers, and investigation determines that this malfunction should be impossible but Jones describes how someone could intentionally rig the tube to malfunction.  The Capitan and his mysterious passenger Jones each conclude there is a saboteur aboard.  Then the sub finds a patch of ice that is thin enough to break through and boat surfaces.

The team approaches the camp to look for survivors, but it is clear the Jones and his fellow spy are not too concerned with the people but are desperately looking for something.  Ferraday is nobody’s fool and demands that he give him the full story.  So Jones fesses up that Britain’s, America’s and the Russian German scientists stolen after the war created a an advanced experimental British camera was stolen by the Soviets, along with an enhanced film emulsion developed by the Americans. The Soviets combined the two and sent it into orbit to photograph the locations of the all the American missile bases.  However, the camera malfunctioned and continued to record Soviet missile sites as well and then a second malfunction forced re-entry in the Arctic, close to Ice Station Zebra.  Soon after, undercover Soviet and British agents arrived to recover the film capsule, and the civilian scientists at Zebra were caught in the crossfire between them.

As the weather clears, Ferraday sets his crew to searching for the capsule. Jones eventually finds a hidden tracking device.  He is blind-sided and knocked unconscious by Vaslov, who is a Soviet agent and the saboteur they have been looking for.  But before Vaslov can make off with his prize, he is confronted by Anders.  As the two men fight, a dazed Jones shoots and kills Captain Anders due to Vaslov’s manipulation of the scenario.

Hot on their heels are Soviet aircraft heading toward Zebra.  Ferraday and his men find the capsule buried in the ice.  While Ferraday’s crew extracts the capsule, Russian paratroopers land at the scene and their commander, Colonel Ostrovsky, demands the capsule.  Believing that the Americans have already secured the canister, the Russian commander threatens to activate the self-destruct mechanism with his radio-detonator.  Ferraday stalls while 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, Vaslov makes a break with the film canister.  Jones stops Vaslov, mortally wounds him, and retrieves the film.

Ferraday orders Jones to hand the film over to the Soviets. However, Ferraday had earlier found a radio-detonator identical to Ostrovsky’s.  The Russians send the canister aloft by balloon for recovery by an approaching jet fighter.  Marine lieutenant Walker makes a desperate attempt to get Ostrovsky’s detonator, but fails and is killed.  Commander Ferraday then activates his detonator, destroying the film.  Both sides leave the area under the pretense that everyone was there to rescue the civilians.

Ice Station Zebra was released on October 23, 1968. The film became a major hit, which gave a much-needed boost to Rock Hudson’s flagging career.

Why does it provide an example of the cold war era?  Simple, once again the two sides are stuck in a stalemate as they both wanted the film that revealed secrets about the other but while on the brink of war, each side actually ends up with nothing.  This was the reality of the cold war: two sides teetering on the brink of conflict but neither one getting the better of the other.  Those of you too young to experience the cold war will never know the feeling of always having to look over your shoulder to see if the enemy was there.



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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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The Cold War–A Tribute.

I was watching my step daughter’s history documentary list for school and one of the last videos supposedly documents the Cold War.  Then it hit me.  Both she and her younger sister have no idea what living during the cold was like.  In fact, my ten year old even asked” “Why would anyone have an iron curtain?”

So our next tribute (which as you know is always three movies) is dedicated to films representing or otherwise try to capture the tension of the cold war.  Our first film, Ice Station Zebra (1968) is a classic staring (among others) Rock Hudson, Earnest Borgnine and Jim Brown.  One little known fact about this movie is that one of my hero’s (before he went off the deep end) the great pilot Howard Hughes was said to have watched the film on a continuous loop over 150 times in one sitting.

Our second movie in The Cold War tribute is The Spy Who Came in Out of the Cold (1965) starring Richard Burton and is about a British Spy who is stuck in East Germany,

The third and final tribute to the Cold War is The Hunt For Red October (1990) starring Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Fred Thompson, James Earl Jones and Sam Neill.  The formidable cast in the film makes it a great movie to watch and is even relatively clean for the kids.

So there you have it.  Our tribute to the Cold War—watch for the pending reviews.


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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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I was wondering what were Sam Neil and Mel Gibson doing in 1982? Then it hit me—they were making “Attack Force Z” (1982).

During WWII “Attack force Z” was a joint Allied special forces unit designated to operate behind Japanese lines in South East Asia.  Predominantly Australian, Z Special Unit was a specialized reconnaissance and sabotage outfit that included British, Dutch, New Zealand, Timorese and Indonesian members, principally operating around Borneo and nearby islands and was under the direct command of General Douglas MacArthur.  This early precursor to today’s Special Forces carried out a total of 81 covert operations with soldiers inserted by parachute or submarine to provide intelligence and conduct guerrilla warfare.  The most infamous of these missions were Operation Jaywick and Operation Rimau, both of which involved raids on Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbor; the latter of which resulted in the deaths of twenty-three commandos either KIA or by execution by the Japanese after capture.

While many will immediately flock to Mel Gibson’s performance in this lower budget war film, I believe the best performance is by Sam Neil—whose acting credentials are also as impressive as Gibson’s in my opinion.

Within the first five minutes of this film we see just how serious these chaps are about their mission (which is to find a crashed plane).  Led by Paul Kelly (Gibson), an inexperienced commando officer, the team secretly lands on the island and hides their kayaks.  As they venture in land, Ted ‘Kingo’ King is hit by fire from an unseen machine gun post.  King cannot be allowed to fall into enemy hands and compromise the mission under interrogation, so instead of taking him back or finding him shelter until they return to shore, his companion, D.J. Costello (Sam Neill) simply shoots him after sharing a cigarette so the mission can continue uncompromised.  The execution of one of their own doesn’t even so much as raise an eyebrow.  The four remaining men return to their search, after coming across a rice farmer and assuring him they are friends, the teams learns of the area where the plane crashed, but not after the rice farmer is also killed in order to preserve secrecy.

While following the (now dead) old man’s directions, the squad sees some Japanese soldiers leave a house and when Force Z storms in, they meet the local resistance leader Lin and his family.  Now they have a guide to lead them to the plane, but are attacked by Japanese soldiers at a Buddhist Temple.  As Force Z makes quick work of these soldiers, the bodies begin to start piling up and the Japanese Command begin to intensify the search for the parties responsible for all these dead men.

Meanwhile within sight of the plane Kelly watches as locals blow up the wreckage.  The local non-English speaking resistance leader leads them to a defecting Japanese government official Imoguchi, and he is believed to hold secrets that could end the war faster.  Only Kelly knows he must be rescued at any cost or killed.  As the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together, Kelly must persuade his own men that Imoguchi is worth rescuing and the local resistance that it is worth fighting against their Japanese enemies.

However, as the excitement should carry the action onwards, Attack Force Z blunders mightily in the second act.  It should be building up to a thrilling climax, but instead it devolves into a tired and clichéd war romance between Law’s American commando, Jan Veitch, and a local village girl, while the script leads the rest of the group in a contrived circle to delay the final exposition and eventual showdown with the Japanese occupiers.

Featuring a couple of strong performances (especially by Neill) yet only intermittently effective, Attack Force Z has aged poorly, more so than many other war films from the same period.  It has significant technical handicap and wavering directorial conviction draws away from what should be an otherwise interesting story, leaving behind a somewhat murky film.



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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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