Starring: Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale
Studio: Vides Cinematografica/Paramount 08041
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0, English
Extras: Theatrical trailer
Length: 121 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2
This was an Italian/Russian co-production which was unfamiliar to me. It dramatizes the true story of an ill-fated 1928 expedition to the North Pole by noted Italian explorer Nobile, played by Peter Finch. The film opens with actual newsreel footage of the expedition’s launch, with fake-newsreel footage of Finch and his crew cut in and processed to look like the originals.
In later life General Nobile is haunted by the ordeal of the expedition, in which some accused him of abandoning his crew to save himself. To relieve his insomnia over the matter, he assembles in his living room the ghosts of all those involved and stages a mock trial to determine his guilt or innocence. This is the opportunity for flashbacks to the actual expedition, which involved a large dirigible, the “Italia.” During a storm it loses altitude and scrapes off its gondola on the ice, then lifts the gas bag with the other half of the crew high into the air to drop them elsewhere. The survivors find the tent in the wreckage, paint it red for visibility from the air, and huddle there awaiting rescue. They find the radio and fix it enough to be able to listen to music broadcasts but have difficulty getting their SOS message and location out to the world.
Back at their base in Spitzbergen, the girlfriend of one of the expedition members (Cardinale) persuades a mercenary aviator to fly in to save the men. He can only take out one at a time so he says the only one he will take on the first flight out is Nobile. Then the weather closes in and Nobile struggles to bring rescue to the others. A Russian icebreaker is dispatched but has problems with damaged propellers and impenetrable ice. Additional drama is provided by three men who insist on trying to walk back to Spitzbergen (they are only about 90 miles away). The girlfriend also convinces Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to try to rescue the survivors. His plane crashes near the wrecked dirigible bag but he finds them all dead and evidently died later himself since his pilot was killed and the plane wrecked.
The mock trial lacks the interest level of the actual expedition footage. The dubbing and syncing of the dialog audio is a bit haphazard. Some shots get extremely grainy as if the Russian director decided after the fact he need more closeups. The producer was Italian; that combo must have produced some interesting fireworks. One of the heroes of the story is surely the Russian icebreaker commander and his crew. They actually complete the rescue without loss of life on their part. Also, a comrade on a collective farm experimenting with radio DX-ing using a kite aerial is the first to pick up the crew’s SOS – so one can see the attractions of this co-production to the Soviet-era film apparatchuks. Morricone did the soundtrack, and it is quite effective. Highly recommended for cooling summer viewing to anyone who likes dirigibles and Claudia Cardinale!
– John Sunier