Ice Cold in Alex

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ice Cold in Alex
Ice Cold in Alex poster.jpg
British film poster
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Produced by W. A. Whittaker
Written by Christopher Landon (novel & screenplay)
T. J. Morrison
Starring John Mills
Sylvia Syms
Anthony Quayle
Harry Andrews
Music by Leighton Lucas
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by Richard Best
Distributed by Associated British-Pathé (UK)
Release dates
24 June 1958 (UK)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Ice Cold in Alex (1958) is a British film based on the novel of the same name by British author Christopher Landon, and described as a true story in the film's opening credits. Directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring John Mills, the film was a prizewinner at the 8th Berlin International Film Festival.[1] The film was not released in the United States until 1961, and then as a cut-down version – 48 minutes shorter than the original – under the title "Desert Attack".[2]


A British unit at Tobruk is attacked by the German Afrika Korps in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. During the resulting evacuation, Captain Anson (John Mills), a transport pool officer suffering from battle fatigue and alcoholism, MSM Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews) and two nurses – Diana Murdoch (Sylvia Syms) and Denise Norton (Diane Clare) – crew an Austin K2/Y ambulance, nicknamed 'Katy',[Note 1] and 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 (Anthony Quayle), who carries a large pack, to which he seems very attached. After the South African shows Anson two bottles of gin in his back pack, van der Poel persuades Anson to let him join them in their drive to the safety of the British lines in Alexandria, Egypt.

Anson motivates himself by thinking of the ice cold lager he will order when they finally reach the safety of Alexandria – the 'Alex' of the title. 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. Van der Poel, who claims to have learned German while working in South-West Africa, is able to talk the Germans into allowing them to go on their way. The second time however, they seem reluctant, until he shows them the contents of his back-pack.

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 de Poel is really up to. He panics, blunders into some quick-sand, and buries 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 that he is probably a German spy, but decide not to tell him about this. During the final leg of the journey Katy must be hand-cranked in reverse up an escarpment, and van der Poel's strength is again crucial to achieving this.

When they reach Alexandria they make their way to a bar where Anson orders a cold beer, consumed with a relish which creates the most memorable scene and the poster image of the film. But before they have drunk their first round, a Corps of Military Police officer arrives to arrest van der Poel. Anson, who had prearranged this at a checkpoint as they entered the city, 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.




The final scene, in which Mills' character finally gets his glass of lager, was reportedly filmed some weeks after the rest of the film, at Elstree Studios. Real lager had to be used to 'look right', and Mills had to drink numerous glasses full until the shots were finished, and was "a little 'heady'" by the end.

Sylvia Syms has said that (Danish) Carlsberg was chosen because they could never have been seen to be drinking a German lager.[why?] In fact the beer referred to in the original novel is Rheingold, which, although not German, has German connotations.

Scenes from the film were used in a late-1980s television advertising campaign for the German Holsten Pils lager. Each advertisement mixed original footage from a different old film (another example was The Great Escape) with new humorous material starring British comedian Griff Rhys Jones and finishing with the slogan "A Holsten Pils Production". In retaliation, rival Carlsberg simply lifted the segment in which Mills contemplates the freshly poured lager in the clearly Carlsberg-branded glass, before downing it in one go and declaring, "Worth waiting for!" This was followed by a variation in the usual Carlsberg tag-line: "Still probably the best lager in the world."

Historical errors[edit]

As Quayle is driven away as a prisoner-of-war at the end of the film, several post-war Land Rovers can be seen parked in the background. The Afrika Korps are shown variously equipped with American M3 half-tracks and an American self-propelled gun.

"Katy" the Austin K2 ambulance used in the film was specially converted to 4-wheel drive, apparently for greater mobility during desert filming (the transfer case, front differential and front propellor shaft are visible in some shots). Genuine K2s were not so fitted. Harry Andrews also claims "Katy weighs two tons!" whereas the actual weight of the K2 exceeded three tons.[citation needed]


In a break with previous films by Associated British Pictures, the producer and editor used a minimum of incidental music.[3] Leighton Lucas wrote a stirring military march called "The Road to Alex" which was the main theme and a "Romance".[4]


  1. ^ These vehicles were commonly known as "Katys" or "Katies" during their wartime service.


External links[edit]