It’s one of the greatest films about a bar, even though the bar itself only appears briefly at the end.
The soul of the story, however, is a man’s journey to reach this place, across the desert towards Alexandria where he can sit down and have a cold beer – the titular ice cold in Alex. Set in Libya during WW2, an increasingly exhausted Captain Anson, played by John Mills, is trying to cross the desert with two terrified nurses and a sergeant major. Evacuating the city of Tobruk before the Germans arrive they make the perilous journey in a clapped out Austin K2 ambulance. Captain Anson is on the verge of cracking up due to exhaustion, the upper lip is starting to give way, but, dammit, neither Jerry nor this sand trap will get the better of him. What keeps him going is the drink waiting for him at the end; a beer “so ruddy cold there’s a sort of dew on the outside of the glass”.
Based on the book by Christopher Landon (who served as a Desert Rat in North Africa during the war) it’s a triumph of describing the little rewards that motivate a person. Something we can all relate to.
“Do you know the next drink I’m going to have? A beer, Tom. A bloody great, tall, ice-cold glass of Rheingold in that little bar off Mahoment Ali Square in Alex… and I’ll buy you one, all of you one, because I’m bloody well going to get you there.” And who hasn’t felt like shouting that as you grind through another day in the desert pushing our own metaphorical ambulance up a hill?
Sure, our desert here in 2014 has air-conditioned buildings, the number of Nazis likely to shoot you is negligible, and you rarely have to drive across a minefield — even if Sheikh Zayed Road sometimes feels like that. But as you stagger through another week, just think of Captain Anson. Think how much better the reward is when you’ve earned it.
As Anson succinctly put it after finally downing his reward in one go: “Worth waiting for…”