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Film / Ice Cold in Alex

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Worth waiting for.

Ice Cold in Alex is a 1958 British World War II film based on Christopher Landon's 1957 novel of the same name, directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle, and Harry Andrews.

It's about a bunch of British soldiers trying to outrun the German Afrika Korps in the North African desert in an ambulance after they're cut off from their column in the wake of Rommel's assault. The drama focuses on the interplay among the characters in their struggle to cross the desert alive rather than the war happening around them, although the latter provides an important framing device for their personal struggle.

Possibly the first post-War film in which the Germans were not simply depicted as a faceless and valueless enemy.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Big Guy: van der Poel, who does an ungodly amount of (almost literally) backbreaking work.
  • Crossing the Desert: Probably the best Trope Codifier in the world. note 
  • Defeat Means Friendship: van der Poel is exceptionally cocky and doesn't take Anson seriously... until his stroll across the minefield is abruptly halted by a round metal object under his boot.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Tom Pugh has to rip off Otto's South African dog-tags to prevent him from being identified as a spy.
  • Drinking on Duty: Anson spends the start of the film slightly... chemically imbalanced.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Anson is a borderline alcoholic due to the stress he's been put under during the African campaign. After he gets a nurse killed by his own stupidity, he vows not to drink until they're out of the desert and safe in Alexandria.
  • Fanservice: Van der Poel makes his entrance wearing short shorts and a shirt open to the waist. All of the men take their shirts off over the course of the film.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Famously averted in the beer-downing finale — it's real Carlsberg, and Mills had to down a couple of pints to get the best take. Subverted in that they filmed alternate scenes of the survivors drinking sarsaparilla, because there were still 'dry' states in the U.S. that would have censored the film otherwise.
  • Greater Need Than Mine: Averted; Anson tries to stay behind in Tobruk in order to save his friend who lived through the first seige, but he's ordered to follow the column to Alexandria. His friend is left behind and blames Anson for it.
  • The Hero: Captain Anson, who successfully navigates the crew through incredibly hostile territory.
  • Hope Spot: When the ambulance is winched up to the top of the ridge only to roll all the way back down again because no-one put the handbrake on.
  • Humble Goal: The title comes from Anson's yearning for a cold beer.
  • If We Get Through This…: Anson promises to buy the entire crew a beer if they make it through the desert alive.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • Played straight with Anson at the start of the film, averted later, despite van der Poel's stockpile of gin.
      van der Poel: "So what do I do if he asks for a drink?"
      Pugh:: "He WON'T!"
    • Also played straight on a meta-level; the heat of the desert and the characters' struggle is so palpable in this film that almost all who watch it will crave a beer after the finale. So much so that Carlsberg used the ending sequence in the bar, unedited, as a straight up advert for their own beer.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Murdoch and Anson clearly have chemistry, but Anson is all too aware of his problems.
    Murdoch: I'd like to be coming with you.
    Anson: Too much of a handful.
    Murdoch: You'll be coming back to Alex?
    Anson: No. Wouldn't work out. I'd like to think it could, but... it wouldn't. I'd only make you unhappy.
    * Beat*
    Anson: See? I've started already.
  • It Has Been an Honour: Van Der Poel to the rest at the end of the film although he isn't going to die, just be taken as a POW.
  • The Napoleon: Anson starts the movie as a bit of a belligerent oaf, more due to being sick of the war than malice, but redeems himself thanks to Character Development. But he's still short.
"You should never ask a man what he's doing when he takes a shovel into the desert!"
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Zig-Zagged; Anson is basically responsible for the death of Norton, since it's revealed that had he stopped...Van Der Poel would have been able to talk his way out of being sent back and no one would have been shot at. However, if she wasn't wounded, their chances of them being allowed to cross would have been lowered.
  • Oh, Crap!: Anson and Pugh at seeing their commanding officer blown up... but not for the obvious reasons.
    Pugh: "My toolkit!"
    Anson: "My whisky..."
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Anson especially after he risks being tried for treason by concealing van der Poel's true identity as a spy from his superiors.
  • Quicksand Sucks: This almost happens to Captain van der Pol; justified since he was trying to bury the spy radio he was carrying, and then kept squirming after. Not to mention, it's a looming threat to our heroes as they traversed the Qattara Depression.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A drunkard captain, an engineer, a refugee nurse and a lost South African soldier.
  • Sea of Sand: Even though the British fought in North Africa for three years and the film was made in 1958 — only fifteen years after the end of the fighting — the "sea of sand" aspect of the desert is given disproportionate coverage. (In reality, only a very small part of the fighting took place in the sand sea and both armies sought to avoid this as much as they could, preferring the arid semi-desert terrain nearer the coast.)
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Averted; as Murdoch is about to apply lipstick before going into the bar for her well-deserved beer, she realises it was all used for marking the grave of Norton.
  • Shot at Dawn: Averted, thanks to the crew's admiration for German spy van der Poel/Otto Lutz.
  • The Smart Guy: Tom Pugh, who stops both the ambulance and the main character from disintegrating.
  • The Stoic: Captain Anson. Although at first his stoicism seems to come straight out of a bottle, his determination is what keeps the rest of the gang going.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: A given considering it's a war movie.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Averted, in that the Germans are portrayed as normal soldiers who actually help the gang on one occasion although this is partly due to van der Poel being a German spy. Truth in Television to an extent, as Rommel was a highly honourable commander and the Afrika Korps were renowned for being as civilised as one can be in a war.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Sister Murdoch doesn't weather quite so badly as the men, but a few days in the desert gives her chapped lips and frizzled hair.
  • Worthy Opponent: Van der Poel at the end is saluted as one of these, and of course the desert itself.