What were American distributors thinking when they chopped the 129 minute British war film ICE COLD IN ALEX down to 76 minutes and renamed it DESERT ATTACK.
And they didn’t release the 1958 film in the U.S. till 1961.
ICE COLD IN ALEX has been described as not so much a war film,rather a story of endurance. Under the skilful direction of J.Lee Thompson,this gripping film is the story of 4 people battling the elements and a cantankerous old ambulance truck as they try to reach Alexandria and the safety of British lines.
This is North Africa in 1942 when Rommel’s Afrika Corps have captured the British base at Tobruk. Captain John Mills, his sergeant Harry Andrews, a nurse Sylvia Sims and South African soldier Anthony Quayle band together for survival.
The whole film is engrossing and the acting is first class. There are in particular four scenes which make this film so memorable.
The group have to traverse a minefield. Mills and Quayle lead the way,literally putting one foot in front of the other as they gingerly move forward. Quayle moves more quickly and steps on something.
Mills has to examine what it is with the fear that it might explode at any moment.
Quayle gets into trouble again as he steps into quicksand and the others attempt a rescue. This is done so realistically, you actually see Quayle’s head go under before he is pulled out.
The third striking scene is when the travellers are nearing Alexandria and the last obstacle is a steep hill. The only way to get the old ambulance up it is by hand cranking it backwards up the hill. It’s painstakingly slow and they are near the top when an accident occurs and the truck careers back down the hill. They have to start all over again.
The end of the film is the iconic image of the film.
John Mills has talked about the ice cold lager he will order when they reach safety in Alexandria. When the four travellers get to the bar,Mills tells the barman, “Set ’em up,Joe.”
They all watch silently as the first lager is poured. Mills drinks it in one and says,”Worth waiting for.”
This foreign title,TOAST FOR A SPY is a bit of a giveaway for part of the plot.