War is undoubtedly a tricky and sensitive subject matter for any film to tackle. The real world complexities and emotional impact is something that needs to be treated with kid gloved and not simply used for entertainment without a care for the truth. Audiences could easily turn against a war film that is seen as too gratuitous or made without care. When you look at the best like The Great Escape, Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and most recently Dunkirk you can see how war can be viewed and represented in so many different ways but still have that strong emotional impact like no other.
Studiocanal’s 60th Anniversary release of Ice Cold In Alex shines the spotlight on an often forgotten gem from 1958. Presented as a brand new 4k restoration with its full running time – not the cut down American version – we are treated to one of John Mills’ career best performances as Captain Anson alongside Sylvia Syms who has still been going strong in film and TV in recent years. Based on Christopher Landon’s novel the film is one of hope that tells a personal story and allows the audience to get behind Anson as he battles to survive and dreams of having that ice cold beer one day. He’s not perfect, and the people he comes across have their own issues too, and so Landon’s writing allows the war setting to take a back seat to character study and emotional connections.
The story itself is about Anson trying to keep things together alongside his British RASC Motor Ambulance Company workers including two nurses (Syms and Diane Clare) and a mechanic (Harry Andrews). They are forced to evacuate with the Germans coming and their movements towards Alexandria certainly aren’t as straight forward as they’d hoped. Separation from others means they’re forced to work together to survive, not only against the elements but those they come in contact with also. Who can they trust? And can they really trust each other? It’s a tough fight to work as a team with people who all have their own agendas.
Were it not for the strength of Mills’ performance and Landon’s understanding of the human psyche this could easily be a mundane and weak film yet Ice Cold In Alex allows you to really feel something for these people and believe their fight and journey means something. War isn’t just shooting and explosions and huge battle sequences. There will always be quiet moments of contemplation and the psychological toll that such horrible experiences can have on people. And in a way war can be an escape for some that have their problems back home and here you feel these are people looking to run from something but being forced to face their demons and learn to overcome them and become better.
There’s no doubt that Ice Cold In Alex deserves the love and attention given to it in this new release. The impact and emotions are as real as ever and despite the ageing acting and visuals it still remains as relevant and relatable as ever. The film does well to balance dialogue, tension and interesting characters that keep your attention to the point where you want to keep following them on their journey. Studiocanal’s Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as it ever has and has a solid set of new special features which give some interesting insights into the making of the film and those involved. Overall this is a package well worth picking up if you’re a fan of war films or British films in general and Ice Cold In Alex its place in movie history.
StudioCanal’s 60th Anniversary release of Ice Cold In Alex is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.
Dir: J. Lee Thompson
Scr: T.J. Morrison, Christopher Landon
Prd: W. A. Whittaker
Cast: John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle, Harry Andrews, Diane Clare
DoP: Gilbert Taylor
Music: Leighton Lucas
Country: UK, Libya
Runtime: 130 minutes
* 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