Out of step with the public mood when it was released in 1968, Ice Station Zebra
has held up decently as a Guy's Movie. Based on an Alistair MacLean novel, the film is half submarine picture and half spy puzzler, short on action but long on military chatter and espionage gamesmanship. Rock Hudson, looking seasoned and just a little miffed, gives one of his better performances as the captain of a nuclear sub, ordered to the Arctic to check out a disturbance at a research station on the floating ice. He doesn't know the mission, but he's stuck with mysterious passengers: haughty British agent Patrick McGoohan, back-slapping Russian operative Ernest Borgnine, and hostile Marine captain Jim Brown. McGoohan gets the film's best lines and finest fur jacket, but Brown is pretty cool in a smaller role.
John Sturges directs, with customary deliberateness; at times the movie seems to be suffering from iron-poor blood. Much of the dialogue is pretty sharp, especially in the submarine half, enough to keep you engrossed if you're in the mood for this kind of thing. When the action shifts to the ice, the studio-bound sets inevitably take their toll. It's not hard to see how this large, old-fashioned project misfired in the era of Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, but the more tantalizing question is: Why did this movie become an obsessive favorite of Howard Hughes? Maybe he liked how clean it all looks. --Robert Horton