Arriving on Blu-ray courtesy of Optimum (now Studio Canal), Ice Cold in Alex is the latest in a line of HD restorations in the Optimum Classics range. Probably familiar to many for the Carlsberg advert that it spawned, even if they have not seen the film itself, this World War II thriller was originally released in the UK in 1958 following its success as the International Critics Award winner at the Berlin Film Festival that year. The film did not have an easy journey across the Atlantic though and was not released in the US until 1961, by which point it had been re-titled Desert Attack and lost over forty minutes of its two hour running time.
The film centres on Captain Anson (John Mills) and Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews), who are tasked with transporting an army ambulance and two nurses across the unforgiving Libyan desert to their final destination, Alexandria. Mills turns in a wonderful performance as the battle scarred Captain Anson and his arc as a character adds an extra level of depth to the relatively straightforward A-Z plotting.
Although the plotting may be straightforward that is not to say it is too simple. Novelist and screenwriter Christopher Landon and director J. Lee Thompson do a wonderful job of piling on the difficulties that face the group crossing the desert and the introduction of the suspicious South African officer, Captain van der Poel (Anthony Quayle) and a romantic side story between Anson and nurse Diana (Sylvia Syms) ensure that the film ploughs forwards satisfyingly and remains always compelling.
J. Lee Thompson’s direction is assured and one feels very much with the group as the make their way across the desert. Thompson went on to move to Hollywood following Ice Cold in Alex and had solid hits with Guns of Navarone in 1961 (he was brought in to replace Alexander Mackendrick) and Cape Fear in 1962 but his career seemed to dive head-first into quicksand and his later films, including two Planet of the Apes sequels and far too many Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson films, never really lived up to such classics as Ice Cold in Alex.
The Blu-ray from Optimum is excellent in most respects with the picture and audio quality hard to fault. The transfer has a consistent light grain throughout and there are few signs of scratches or other such native issues. The extras are few in number but high in quality with a fascinating interview with Sylvia Syms and a selection of 16mm colour behind-the-scenes footage shot by John Mills.
Ice Cold in Alex is available to buy or rent on Blu-ray now. A full list of the extras can be found below.
Interview with Sylvia Syms
Behind the Scenes Stills Gallery
John Mills’ home movie footage from the set of Ice Cold in Alex