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Ice Cold in Alex (1958, John Mills, Sylvia Syms)



The year is 1942 and, almost inevitably for the period, the star is Captain John Mills, commander of a motor ambulance convoy, who finds himself cut off from his unit during the German offensive in Libya. He has to evacuate nurses Sylvia Syms and Diane Clare in a battered ambulance and get them to safety in Alexandria, across the enemy-occupied desert, with only his sergeant, Harry Andrews, to curb his raging thirst for whisky.

On the way the party is joined by South African captain Anthony Quayle, who helps them negotiate a minefield. When they encounter a German patrol and Clare is killed, Quayle succeeds in persuading the Germans to allow them to continue driving towards Alexandria. And as their hazardous journey continues Mills and Andrews begin to suspect that Quayle is a German spy.

Director J Lee Thompson, working from the strong and well-characterised screenplay that was based on a true incident, creates and sustains considerable suspense. The set pieces – notably the crossing of the minefield and the rescue of Quayle from a quicksand – are very well staged and Lee Thompson was impressively abetted by the harsh monochrome cinematography of Gilbert Taylor of the well-chosen and well-used locations just outside Tripoli. Said Variety, the director ‘has captured the stark, pitiless atmosphere of the desert superbly. The screenplay skilfully blends excitement, a hint of romance and a fearful sense of danger in which the audience will find full participation.’

production details
GB | 125 minutes | 1958
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Script: Christopher Landon, T.J. Morrison,

John Mills as Captain Anson
Sylvia Syms as Sister Diana Murdoch
Anthony Quayle as Captain van der Poel
Harry Andrews as M.S.M. Pugh
Diane Clare as Sister Denise Norton
Richard Leech as Captain Crosbie
Liam Redmond as Brigadier (D.D.M.S.)
Allan Cuthbertson as Brigadier’s Staff Officer
David Lodge as C.M.P Captain (Tank Trap)
Michael Nightingale as C.M.P Captain (Check Point)
Basil Hoskins as C.M.P Lieutenant (Alexandria)
Walter Gotell as 1st German Officer
Richard Marner as German Guard
Peter Arne as British Officer at Oasis
Paul Stassino as Barman
Frederick Jaeger as 2nd German Officer