🎥 Ice Cold In Alex – 1958
The Story …
Captain Anson, the officer commanding a British RASC Motor Ambulance Company in Tobruk, is suffering from battle fatigue and alcoholism.
With the city about to be besieged by the German Afrika Korps, Anson and most of his unit are ordered to evacuate to Alexandria. During the evacuation, Anson, MSM Tom Pugh and two nurses, Sister Diana Murdoch and Sister Denise Norton, become separated from the others in an Austin K2/Y ambulance nicknamed “Katy”.
The quartet decide to drive across the desert back to British lines …
As they depart, they come across an Afrikaner South African officer, Captain van der Poel, who carries a large pack, to which he seems very attached.
After the South African shows Anson two bottles of gin in his backpack, van der Poel persuades Anson to let him join their drive to the safety of the British lines in Alexandria.
The ambulance “Katy” has become stuck in the sand.
En route, the group meets with various obstacles, including a minefield, a broken suspension spring (during its replacement, van der Poel’s great strength saves the group when he supports “Katy” on his back when the jack collapses), and the dangerous terrain of the Qattara Depression.
Twice the group encounters motorised elements of the advancing Afrika Korps; in one encounter they are fired upon, and Norton is fatally wounded. Anson blames himself and his drinking for Norton’s death, and vows not to drink any alcohol until he can have an “ice cold lager in ‘Alex'”. Van der Poel, who claims to have learned German while working in German South West Africa, is able to talk the Germans into allowing them to go on their way.
The second time however, the Germans seem reluctant, until van der Poel shows them the contents of his backpack.
This pack becomes the focus of suspicion. Pugh, already troubled by van der Poel’s lack of knowledge of the South African Army’s tea-brewing technique, follows him when he heads off into the desert with his pack and a spade (supposedly to dig a latrine).
Pugh thinks he sees an antenna. Later, at night, they decide to use the ambulance headlights to see what van der Poel is really up to. He panics, blunders into some quicksand, and submerges his pack, though not before Anson and Murdoch see that it contains a radio set. They drag him to safety.
While he recovers, they realise he is probably a German spy but decide not to confront him about this. During the final leg of the journey, Katy must be hand-cranked in reverse up a sand dune escarpment, and van der Poel’s strength is again crucial to achieving this.
Continuing their drive, the party discuss their conviction that “van der Poel” is a spy, and decide that they do not want to see him shot.
When they reach Alexandria, Anson delivers everyone’s papers except “van der Poel’s” to the Military Police check point and (off-screen) reports to the MP’s senior officer that “van der Poel” is a regular German soldier that they met lost in the desert and has surrendered to them under his parole (word of honour). Anson secures the MP’s agreement to allow the party to enjoy a beer with their “captive” before taking him into custody as a prisoner of war.
The party then make their way to a bar and Anson orders a cold beer, which he consumes with relish. But before they have drunk their first round, a Corps of Military Police officer arrives to arrest van der Poel. Anson orders him to wait.
Having become friends with van der Poel and indebted to him for saving the group’s lives, Anson tells him that if he gives his real name, he will be treated as a prisoner of war, rather than as a spy (which would mean execution by firing squad).
Van der Poel admits to being Hauptmann Otto Lutz, an engineering officer with the 21st Panzer Division. Pugh notices that Lutz is still wearing fake South African dog tags and rips them off before the police see them.
Lutz, after saying his farewells and concluding that they were “all against the desert, the greater enemy”, is driven away, with a new respect for the British.
- Directed by J. Lee Thompson
- Screenplay by Christopher Landon and T. J. Morrison
- Based on Ice Cold in Alex 1957 novel by Christopher Landon
- Produced by W. A. Whittaker
- Cinematography : Gilbert Taylor
- Edited by Richard Best
- Music by Leighton Lucas
- Production Company : Associated British Picture Corporation
- Distributed by Associated British-Pathé, 20th Century Fox
- Release Dates : 24 June 1958
- John Mills as Captain Anson
- Sylvia Syms as Sister Diana Murdoch
- Anthony Quayle as Captain van der Poel/Hauptmann Otto Lutz
- Harry Andrews as MSM Tom Pugh
- Diane Clare as Sister Denise Norton
- Richard Leech as Captain Crosbie
- Liam Redmond as Brigadier, Deputy Director Medical Services
- Allan Cuthbertson as the Brigadier’s Staff Officer
- David Lodge as CMP Captain (tank trap)
- Michael Nightingale as CMP Captain (checkpoint)
- Basil Hoskins as CMP Lieutenant (Alexandria)
- Walter Gotell as 1st German Officer
- Frederick Jaeger as 2nd German Officer
- Richard Marner as German Guard
- Peter Arne as British Long Range Desert Group officer at Oasis
- Paul Stassino as the barman
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