Mills and Boom

Anthony Quayle are you trying to seduce me?

So, HOBSON’S CHOICE launched us into a mini John Mills Film Festival. This included TUNES OF GLORY and ICE COLD IN ALEX, which might be crudely termed “trembling upper lip” films, where the certainties of the wartime propaganda films (which are actually far more complex and intelligent than you might expect) are replaced with PTSD, alcoholism and moral doubt.

ICE COLD IN ALEX balances all this with its other role, which is to be a rip-roaring suspenser, a kind of British answer to THE WAGES OF FEAR, without that movie’s bracing misanthropy but with a relentless series of tense situations. Our heroes, separated from the retreating British army, have to drive an ambulance through the North African desert, trying to reach a friendly city while Rommel’s army continually overtakes them. The balance isn’t perfect, but this may still be director J. Lee Thompson’s best film, with very strong performances — Mills is very fine, Sylvia Sims and Harry Andrews are reliable support, and Anthony Quayle is unusually interesting — and nail-gnawing sequences of slow-mounting peril.

The movie’s celebrated for its closing sequence, which is impossible to discuss without spoilers. Here goes.

Mills’ character, a traumatised soldier fuelled by alcohol, keeps himself going with the promise of a drink in Alexandria. At the end, the foursome make it (very surprisingly, the film largely does without a body count, with only two speaking parts slain) and Thompson slows the pace right down. Everybody is doing terrific work. Since Mills has to down a pint in one, Thompson seems to have set up two cameras for tightly-framed groupings. The sound mixer is doing great work too — distant traffic comes to the fore, emphasising the stillness of the scene. The one thing the film doesn’t have is a great score (it’s okay… with a nod to Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War) but fortunately it’s not needed here. The camaraderie and respect of the characters is palpable.

Hardly surprising that decades later, the scene became an ad for Carlsberg, the lager so prominently featured (and before product placement, unless it was done on the QT).

And the movie isn’t even finished with us yet — it delivers another unexpected moment of teeth-grinding tension immediately after this.

7 Responses to “Mills and Boom”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    I have yet to see YIELD TO THE NIGHT or TIGER BAY, but … I remain skeptical about J. Lee Thompson. My best experiences with him so far are EYE OF THE DEVIL, which I attribute to a fondness for b&w supernatural stories involving Deborah Kerr, and the first CAPE FEAR. The latter I attribute to the Hitchcock team (Tomasini, Hermann, etc) plus The Right Story. Perhaps I should see ICE COLD IN ALEX.

  2. Avoid all the late Bronson pics, although I might one day see if there’s anything of value there. I know he committed the cardinal sin of messing with Comden and Green’s script on What a Way to Go! and I can’t figure out why he would do such a thing. But at his best he did some really good movies.

  3. Mark Fuller Says:

    It has to be product placement……which was already brought to a fine art in the Eddie Cantpr films in the early 30s, you have to find a paper by Dr Melanie Selfe for chapter and verse……there is absolutely no cinematic reason why that glass has to have a logo on it.

  4. Good point… makes it one of the most prominent ads in screen history.

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I hope I’m not alone in recalling when “John Goldfarb Please Come Home” nearly caused an international incident.

  6. roberthorton Says:

    There is nothing in Thompson’s 80s run of Bronson pics (and quite a bit that is ugly), with the exception of MURPHY’S LAW, in which CB seems enlivened by Kathleen Wilhoite.

    Couple of years ago I saw Thompson’s WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN (w/Quayle) and YIELD TO THE NIGHT (aka BLONDE SINNER), with Diana Dors on Death Row. Both worth seeing, with lots of charged-up acting (Yvonne Mitchell aces in both), and very compositionally lively – Gil Taylor doing DP duty.

    Enjoyed ICE COLD, too. Strange title, even when you find out what it refers to.

  7. John Goldfarb has one cherishable, stupid gag: the harem-owning sheikh has a dozen “hers” bath towels and one “his.” Dumb, offensive probably, but pretty funny.

    Thompson: Tiger Bay, Gins of Navarone, and The Good Companions, which has a really stunning, prolonged musical number at the end.

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