Spies on Film ~
Ice Station Zebra
– a tale of spies, scientists, and a submarine
By Roger Langley
Editor’s Note ~
Episode 13 of the 1967-1968 British television series, The
Prisoner, is of special interest for a number of reasons. Most
importantly, the Vincent Tilsley script for “Do Not Forsake
Me Oh My Darling” didn’t feature the show’s
lead – New York born actor, director, and producer Patrick
McGoohan. He only portrayed his character, Number Six, in
introductory and concluding scenes. In between, Six was played by
Nigel Stock in a mind-switching plot. The keepers of “The
Village” had arranged the mind transfer to force Number Six
to track down the inventor of the machine that made this possible.
The reason for this concept was that McGoohan went out of the
country to work in a film intended to be his major breakthrough in
Hollywood – Ice Station Zebra. While his
Everyman Productions company worked on “Do Not
Forsake,” McGoohan joined major stars Rock Hudson and
Ernest Borgnine along with former Cleveland Browns fullback Jim
Brown to bring to life Alistair MacLean’s 1963 best-seller.
Before this part, McGoohan had earned international recognition
for his role as John Drake in the ITV produced Danger
Man, known in the U.S. as Secret Agent, between
1965 and 1966. For Walt Disney, McGoohan had also been Dr.
Christopher Syn in the miniseries, The Scarecrow of Romney
Marsh. He’d been considered to play both James
Bond and “The Saint.”
But despite TV success and good reviews for his work in
Ice Station Zebra, McGoohan never made the transition
to a major star on the silver screen.
Wondering why this was the case, Spywise.net asked Roger
Langley, author of the 2007 biography, Patrick McGoohan:
Danger Man or Prisoner? (Tomahawk Press), if he had any
thoughts on McGoohan’s work in Zebra.
He graciously shared some photos from his collection and sent the
following report. It’s but a glimmer into what he offers in
his book, so Spywise.net hopes readers will be intrigued enough to
check out the newest contribution to explorations of the enigmatic
Produced for the big screen by Marty Ransohoff, the original
1963 novel by Alistair MacLean was adapted by director John Sturges
into a well-made combination of action and suspense, boasting a
fine score by Michel Legrand. (His opening overture was restored for
the 2005 DVD release.) The original theatrical release date was
23rd October, 1968, and in selected cinemas the movie was presented
in 70mm Cinerama. Zebra was highly popular –
nominated for two Academy Awards – but also gained notoriety
from Howard Hughes’ obsessive, repeated viewing, declaring
it his favourite movie.
As Andrew Sumner said in his 2005 Uncut magazine
review, Ice Station Zebra was “A Cold War thriller
that relies on claustrophobic tension.” The story starred Rock
Hudson as submarine USS Tigerfish commander James
Ferraday. When a weather-monitoring station near the North Pole is
nearly destroyed by fire, he’s ostensibly sent to find out what
But since he’s been ordered to bring along Capt. Leslie
Anders (Jim Brown) and a platoon of Marines, British agent David
Jones (Patrick McGoohan) and Russian defector Boris Vaslov
(Ernest Borgnine), he realizes he’s being kept in the dark
about the true nature of the mission. Eventually it becomes clear
that the USS Tigerfish is in a race with a Russian sub
to recover reconnaissance film crucial to national defence, being
carried aboard a spacecraft which crashed near the polar ice cap.
When the sub is sabotaged – causing it to sink perilously
close to a depth that would lead to an explosion – it
becomes clear that a double agent is on board, but Ferraday
doesn’t have enough evidence to arrest anyone.
Patrick McGoohan and Rock Hudson in a scene from Ice
A central character interaction was between Hudson’s
Ferraday and Patrick McGoohan’s Jones, who argue as to
who has charge of the mission. Settling for an uneasy truce, Jones
wants to commandeer the vessel, but Ferraday still commands it. In
a defining scene in the Captain’s quarters, Jones slams a
fist down on the table. When Ferraday matches the gesture, his is
a more measured strike, showing the difference between them.
Jones can react violently at any moment when so required, while
the captain considers options and strategy.
Jones – I know how to lie, steal,
kidnap, counterfeit, suborn and kill. That’s my job. I do it
with great pride.
Ferraday – We operate on a first
name basis. My first name is Captain.
In my book, I reveal some never before told stories about the
production of Ice Station Zebra. Here’s one
In the making of one dramatic scene, McGoohan, or a stunt
actor, was to dive and rescue a naval officer from a flooded torpedo
room. Being a strong swimmer, the star chose to do the scene
himself, although Olympic swimming champion Murray Rose
accompanied him, in case anything went wrong. All went well, until
the two men were up to their necks in rising water. Just before the
“take,” McGoohan whispered, “Now
I’ve done it. My foot’s stuck.” Rose dived
and freed the actor’s foot – tightly wedged in a torpedo
rack – in the nick of time.
While the release of the film met with good reviews, the success
of Zebra was not enough to propel McGoohan onto the
Hollywood “A” list.
The U.S. press, at the time of McGoohan’s
“Tinseltown” debut, described him as “A
six-foot, two-inch lance of a man with electric blue eyes and sandy
hair. McGoohan is Britain’s highest paid television star,
distinguished also as a stage actor who won ‘Best
Actor’ award for his performance as Brand. But he dislikes
the word star and says, ‘Call me an actor and I’m
flattered. A star can be a mere personality. It takes work to become
Roger Langley’s Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man
or Prisoner? is available in bookstores everywhere, as well
as these on-line merchants ~