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Film / Ice Station Zebra

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Ice Station Zebra is a 1968 Cold War espionage thriller directed by John Sturges, adapted from the 1963 novel by Alistair MacLean (which, in turn, fictionalized a real event). The cast includes Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, and Jim Brown.

Hudson plays a U.S. Navy submarine captain who is ordered to take his nuclear attack submarine from its base in Scotland up to the Arctic, ostensibly to rescue the crew of the eponymous weather station. On the way, he's ordered to pick up a platoon of Marines and a British Intelligence agent, and quickly learns the real purpose of his mission: to recover a capsule off a Soviet spy satellite.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Canon Foreigner: Marine Captain Leslie Anders does not appear in the novel.
  • Chromosome Casting: Only three women appear in the film: One is a barmaid at the far end of the bar when Ferraday receives a phone call; another is in one of the booths in the bar; the third is seen walking with a companion arm-in-arm outside the second pub Ferraday enters.
  • Eerie Arctic Research Station: The film centers on a lonely Arctic research station that happens to be the closest manned site to where a reconnaissance satellite fell to Earth. Both the Soviet Union and the United States desperately want that satellite, since it managed to photograph secret military sites worldwide before falling out of orbit. It comes down to a race between Soviet fighter jets versus an American nuclear submarine. It becomes even more eerie because a mole in the station set part of it on fire to try to take out witnesses of the salvaging of the satellite, and thus the Americans have to sift through the wreckage.
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  • The Film of the Book: Book written by Alistair MacLean.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: As expected of a story involving a shadow war, the real reason why Russians and Americans mobilized troops to the Arctic and the bloodier parts of what happened once they arrived are never made public. Instead, the international press releases a story about how a joint American/Russian operation helped save the poor scientists of Ice Station Zebra, who were in dire straits courtesy of an "accidental" fire...
  • Lampshade Hanging: In the novel, when the submarine dives for the first time, the British spy expects blaring klaxons and men yelling "Dive! Dive! Dive!" Instead, the commander just says "OK men, we're going down."
  • Made in Country X: Lampshaded by Mr. Jones, saying that the spy satellite was made in Russia with parts designed by German scientists employed by the Americans and British.
  • Mr. Smith: Patrick McGoohan's Intelligence operative calls himself "Mr. Jones" and never provides his real name.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: Discussed ("M.A.D. — a wonderful acronym if I've ever heard of one!") in the Info Dump provided by Mr. Jones regarding why the satellite that landed near the station is such an important MacGuffin: the satellite went over (and thus filmed) the location of all the missile silos in both the United States and Russia, so whoever gets a hold of the film will (theoretically) be able to create a "survivable" strategy for an all-out nuclear assault.
  • No MacGuffin, No Winner: At the end of the film, the Americans blow up the roll of film from the satellite's camera to prevent a Mexican Standoff between them and a Russian commando team from escalating to full-blown slaughter and possibly World War III.
  • Race Against Time: If the Russians arrive before the Americans, the intelligence will be used probably to destroy the mainland.
  • Sub Story: A large part of the movie involves the submarine journey to get to the titular station, which sees a few problems like almost crashing into an ice floe, some of which are apparently the work of a saboteur.

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