Saturday, 5 March 2011

Film Review: ICE-COLD IN ALEX (1958)

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Running time: 129 mins (approx)
Certification (UK): PG

Genre: War/Drama
UK Release date: 24th June 1958

Watched on Sky+ Saturday 5th March 2011.


This is another one of those films I remember watching at a young age on TV on a wet Sunday afternoon. There are only certain scenes I remember clearly, but having re-watched it today I realised for the first time just what a tremendous film it is. It’s not your traditional war film, there is very little fighting but that doesn’t matter, it’s more about the characters and their battle for survival against the desert. But more of my thoughts later, here’s a brief summary first (summary haters and those that don’t wish to know anything about the plot please help crank that ambulance up the slope while I write the next paragraph).

I guess I’d better give you a bit of background first. The film is set in North Africa in World War II, The British army are being pushed back along the coast of Libya towards Egypt by the Germans. Captain Anson, MSM Tom Pugh and two nurses, Sister Diana Murdoch and Sister Denise Norton are somehow left to find their own way to safety in an ambulance called ‘Katy’. On the way they pick up a South African officer, Captain van der Poel, who at first seems ok, but later they become suspicious of. Amongst all this intrigue, Captain Anson comes to terms with his alcoholism and vows not to touch another drop until they get to Alexandria, where he will have an ice-cold lager, hence the title ‘Ice-Cold in Alex’. There is so much more I would like to say about this one, but, in the interests of not giving spoilers away, I’ll stop there.

This is very much a character driven piece, and as such you are easily drawn into the story. For the most part the four main characters are totally captivating and you will be surprised how quickly the time passes… and it is quite a long film for its day. So, excellent performances from John Mills as Captain Anson, Sylvia Syms as Sister Diana Murdoch, Anthony Quayle as Captain van der Poel and Harry Andrews as MSM Tom Pugh.

In some parts of the world I believe this film is known as ‘Desert Attack’, a pretty bad title I’m afraid. It conveys nothing of what the film is about and may have either misled or put some viewers off. It’s not perfect, there are some technical issues and one moment that just didn’t quite fit (for me). But at the end of the day, it’s all about what they discover about Captain van der Poel and what they decide to do about it that makes this film so good. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen that were made about World War II back in the days of black and white and so highly recommended.

My score: 8.6/10

(RT = Rotten Tomatoes)
IMDb Page:

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