North Africa 1942. Nazi armoured groups are advancing on the last remaining strongholds of the Allies. Captain Anson (John Mills) is the officer commanding a British Ambulance company. He is suffering from battle fatigue. With Tobruk about to fall, Anson must overcome everything to evacuate with his division to Alexandria. His unit consists of Master sergeant Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews), and two nurses, Diana Murdoch (Sylvia Sims) and Denise Norton (Diana Clare). They become separated due to aerial bombing and have to find a new route. Along the journey they will find an abandoned South African officer, Captain van der Poel (Anthony Quayle). A mysterious overladen pack he carries and hostile desert filled with enemy units, tension and fear…
Some weeks as a reviewer you despair at what you are covering. From dull horror schlock, mediocre blockbusters and over laden form filled films with no soul but a lot of critical pandering. Ice Cold in Alex however is a stone cold masterpiece. Its a rare film for me, a film I have never seen before and one that I wish I had seen multiple times. Coupled with 3 other films this week, it has been a blessing and a week you wait a long time for. Director John Lee Thompson crafts an action packed, emotional taut war film. A film that constructs a very simple premise into a deeply effecting and effecting piece. Containing a career defining performance from Mills, as the alcoholic, battle scared veteran. A man with the weight of the situation on his shoulders and nearly coming apart at the seams. He performs this with layers. Then we have the high point of a very controlled script. A script that motivates and mediates its themes without feeling sparse like the desert surrounds. Each character is defined. Their journey is constructed without excess. Its just powerful stuff. Sometimes stunningly so. A real piece of human endeavour and achievement.
The blu ray has upped the standard of the film in release terms. Compare it to the 2011 release and firstly the 4K transfer is utterly amazing. Showing off Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography (for a man that did Star Wars and Strangelove that is a feat). The score sings from the disc and you can even hear that inspiration for Star Wars John Williams score in there. The Chibnall piece on J. L. T has to be the high point. Chibnall keeps in focus Ice Cold but does equally respectful nodding to his body of work. Melanie Williams has a lot to say and does so with much authority. It occasionally gets bogged down but is a fine example of the benefit of film theory. Sylvia Sims, Mills and the bhind the scenes stills have been done before.
* NEW Steve Chibnall on J. Lee Thompson
* NEW Interview with Melanie Williams – Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, University of East Anglia
* Interview with Sylvia Syms
* John Mills Home Video Footage
* Original Trailer
* Behind The Scenes Stills Gallery
* Extended Clip from A Very British War Movie Documentary