Any doubts about how Optimum have handled this classic War-yarn can be dispelled immediately. Ice Cold looks absolutely tip-top, Sgt-Major! It is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect and comes to disc via an AVC encode that preserves the film-grain, tones down the errant, white-out contrast and eradicates the overwhelming majority of the edge enhancement that once plagued the home video prints. Damage is surprisingly light. There may be a couple of judders and the odd vertical line or fleck, but they really are few and far between. DNR appears to have been only lightly and respectfully applied to this restoration, ensuring that the image looks faithful and film-like, yet still undeniably cleaned-up.
Whilst there are still some stock shots of German bombers and what-not, as well as the customary handful of angles and frame-ups that suddenly appear much more grainy and soft than the rest of the surrounding film, this is remarkably crisp, cleanly delineated and can boast considerable depth and detail. In fact, this was a tremendous viewing experience that really brought Captain Anson's desert plight to vivid life. Outside of a full theatrical presentation, I cannot believe that Ice Cold will have ever looked this good.
Lots of scenes feature stand-out moments when you can see every wrinkle, whisker, crag, cut, buzzing fly, grain of sand and bead of dripping sweat. Close-ups can be quite intensely detailed, genuinely popping these worn-out, parched and thoroughly knackered visages out from the screen. The episode when Quayle's Van der Poel is supporting the collapsing ambulance on his back, for example, is wonderfully detailed – from the agony on his face, and the sand and sweat, to the rocks and debris that stipple the middle-to-background of the frames. Equipment, pouches, belts, insignia and even the creases in uniforms are all brought out without error or any form of overt digital processing. We can even see dirt in the tyre-treads, shifting grains of sand underfoot and the small striations in rocks. Far off detail, such as approaching German half-tracks and trucks, the tops of sand-dunes and rocky ridge-lines, or the fronds of oasis palm trees are also nicely rendered. And the classic scene when the Brigadier gets blown to smithereens is also incredibly well-detailed.
Contrast seems much better maintained than I have seen it before. Naturally there are occasions when it shifts about a bit, as you would expect from a film of this vintage, but the majority of the picture features expressive shadow-play, without a hint of crushing, highlights without any of that unsightly nuclear blooming, and a clean and atmospheric distinction between the blazing sun and the subdued interiors. Even in black and white, the tanned flesh sizzles through the screen. You can almost smell the heat.
This is a superb presentation, folks, and earns itself a very strong 8 out of 10.
Optimum provide Ice Cold with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is well and truly up to the job of enhancing our desert sojourn. There is no distracting hiss or background hum taking place, the track sound fresh and sharply rendered.
Dialogue levels are excellent. The marvellous rock-chewing brogue of Harry Andrews does fine skirmishing with Quayle's comical Afrikaan throughout, and Mills' softer, more energetic and breathless voice is happily given plenty of space to flit about. Sudden shouting comes across with alacrity and Diana Clare's terrified screaming really does set the nerves jangling and the teeth on edge.
The film is also about action, and it doesn't disappoint when things go ballistic. The bass levels are very good indeed, with the artillery bombardments that harass the British retreat, and the German clearance of the mine-field really giving the track something to think about. The bridge-blowing and the destruction of the Brigadier's vehicle are also bombastic high-points. Individual effects such as the tossing away of the bean-can in the mine-field, the crunching of the rocks beneath Katy as the ambulance weight bears down on Poel, the bullets ripping through the sides and the springs going ka-poing all come off excellently and with precision and clarity within what is, admittedly, a very limited soundfield.
I've become very impressed with many of these older audio sound designs when released with new lossless mixes, and Ice Cold In Alex is another fine example of a transfer being done just right and without any errors or any unwanted bells and whistles. This gets a strong 7 out of 10.
Optimum pack a couple of extra jerry-cans for the trip, though nothing too illuminating, I'm afraid.
We have a 22-minute Interview with Sylvia Syms who recalls her Libyan experiences with such an amazing cast and crew. She also divulges the fears that UK distributors had with her open blouse and exposed cleavage, hinting at the censor-troubles, and the reaction that the film received upon its release. This is brief, but still good, although no substitute for a full-on retrospective making-of.
As well as the film's theatrical trailer and a gallery of behind-the-scenes stills, we also get to see the colour home movies that John Mills during the production on 16mm. This was something that the actor was fond of doing, and these take the form of some sight-seeing at the various desert locations. His co-stars and his director also appear.
I wish there had been a commentary made for this film … but, c'est la vie. This is still more than we got on the SD DVD.
A great British stalwart of a bullet-riddled, war-torn and fervently patriotic genre it may be, but J. Lee Thompson's classic Ice Cold In Alex is also primarily a remarkable model of early revisionism and intense psychology – of both the individual and the group under pressure.
Mills, Quayle and Andrews give outstanding performances, anchored rigidly in warts 'n' all character, and the trio are clearly absorbed one-hundred-percent by the reality of the scenario. Syms is wonderful too. She has the difficult task of not defusing the situation with sentimentality or sensuality and, ill-conceived love-scene notwithstanding, she does an excellent job with a natural ease, a ready wit and a genuine sense of “mucking-in” with the lads.
With action, humour and pathos, it comes as the icing on the cake to be rewarded with one stunning set-piece after another and then, at the end of it all, to be provided with one of the most stylish and iconic finales that the British end of the genre has to offer.
I have no qualms whatsoever about recommending Optimum's Blu-ray release of Ice Cold In Alex as it showcases a fabulous restoration that has been transferred superbly … although obviously I would have loved there to have been more in the way of extras. So wipe the sweat from your brow, kick back with a chilled lager and savour this gripping adventure. It's definitely been well “worth waiting for” on Blu-ray.
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