Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle, Harry Andrews, Diane Clare, Richard Leech, Liam Redmond

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I think it was back in 2000 when I first watched "Ice Cold in Alex" and for a movie which then was over 40 years old I was impressed. Yet since then I have watched it a few times and each time I am not only equally as impressed but more impressed but why? I ask why because the truth is that "Ice Cold in Alex" is not the most complex of movies, in fact whilst based on Christopher Landon's own wartime experiences it is relatively simple. We have a diverse quartet trying to get across dangerous terrain, dealing with the hazards which present themselves be it Germans or vehicle problems as well as the niggling suspicion that one of them is a Nazi. Yet it is a thrilling movie, exciting, dramatic, well acted and thanks to a certain beer commercial iconic for various reasons.

With Tobruk under attack Captain Anson (John Mills - Town on Trial) is ordered to transport an old ambulance to Alexandria taking MSM Pugh (Harry Andrews) and a couple of nurses Murdoch (Sylvia Syms - The Moonraker) and Norton (Diane Clare) with them who had been left behind in the evacuation. As they cross the desert they stop off for fuel and find themselves picking up South African officer called Van Der Poel (Anthony Quayle). But their journey is full of danger from encounters with Germans as well as dangerous terrain be it quick sand or mines. But there is another danger as well as suspicions over Van Der Poel rise due to his strange behaviour.

Sylvia Syms in Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

So the story of "Ice Cold in Alex" is on the surface quite simple as it is basically the various difficulties which a group of people encounter as they try to get to Alexandria. Being a wartime movie there are the Germans to deal with as well as mechanical issues with the Ambulance known as Katy. Throw in the heat, the quicksand, mines, baking sun, lack of water and hills covered in loose sand and there is plenty of exciting moments which these people have to battle to keep going.

But as well as what you could call obvious issues there are further issues to contend with none more so that Captain van der Poel a soldier who says he is African Dutch but the truth is that he is a Nazi. Suspicions surrounding his true identity grow; he seems able to persuade Germans to leave them alone and goes on mysterious walks at the same time everyday with his back pack. All of which culminates as his cover is blown in a hugely dramatic scene yet rather than leave it there this element of Poel being a Nazi continues as with so many difficulties presenting themselves Anson, Pugh and Murdoch have grown to respect him, he saved their lives a few times.

But we also get more because Captain Anson is an alcoholic, having turned to drink after seeing so much and having almost been caught. So he has his own demons to fight and the effects of having to stay off the drink. And as you can expect this causes both erratic and volatile behaviour as things get to him.

All of which combines to make this fascinating movie, an adventure full of drama, emotion, atmosphere and tension which is constantly getting tenser and tenser. But it is also brilliantly acted with a quartet of actors John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews who bring this great adventure to life. Now John Mills is the star of "Ice Cold in Alex" because as Captain Anson we have him fighting his own withdrawal issues from not drinking. But then Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews are all as important adding to the drama or in some cases lightening the mood with a subtly funny line or mannerism.

What this all boils down to is that "Ice Cold In Alex" is still after 60 years a brilliant movie which never gets boring no matter how many times you watch it. Between the great acting and the equally great story it is exciting with its mix of adventure and atmosphere.