Ironically, maybe the apocalyptic quality of such a confrontation was its own hope -- Sting could ask if "the Russians love(d) their children too," with the expectation that if the answer was "yes," then they wouldn't actually start Armageddon. He's less optimistic about the terrorists. I kind of agree; asking them the same question is more moot. They probably do love their children, but they don't care much for anybody else's and since their fight isn't nearly as likely to lead to global destruction there's less of a check on their malice.
This kind of nostalgia may explain why Cold War faceoffs like Ice Station Zebra can be so much fun -- that, and we don't actually live under their kind of threat anymore. The 1968 movie from John Sturges was based on a 1963 novel by Alister MacLean and stars Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Rock Hudson and Patrick McGoohan.
Hudson is Commander James Ferraday, captain of the nuclear sub U.S.S. Tigerfish. He's ordered on a rescue mission to save scientists trapped at the weather research outpost Ice Station Zebra, which has sent distress calls after a fire wiped out most of the buildings and supplies. But he's also hauling "Mr. Jones," a mysterious man played by Patrick McGoohan who has an authority over the Tigerfish and the mission that sits poorly with Ferraday. Midway on the journey, they stop to take on Boris Vaslov, a Russian colleague of Jones played by Borgnine, and Marine Captain Leslie Anders, played by Brown.
The Tigerfish makes its way under the Arctic icepack to the last known location of the floe-anchored weather station to start its rescue. Sabotage makes Ferraday suspicious, and he trusts neither Jones nor Vaslov. Jones, for his part, doesn't trust Anders. Anders doesn't trust Vaslov or Jones and doesn't think much of the second-in-command of his Marine detachment. Locating the base only uncovers more problems and prompts a tense standoff with Soviet paratroopers that could be a spark to turn the Cold War hot.
The first half of the movie takes place aboard the Tigerfish and Sturges does an excellent job of maintaining and building tension using its cramped conditions. Top-level underwater photography adds to the mix; the eerie waters beneath the ice look like an alien landscape and those shots emphasize the isolation of the sub and her crew. The cast are all fitting familiar roles: Hudson's square-jawed authority suits Ferraday, McGoohan's own icy cynicism sketches most all we need to understand about Jones, Brown's no-nonsense tough-guy matches Anders' hardcase leader and Borgnine's grinning clownishness may or may not cover up something more than we see on Vaslov's surface.
The second half (literally -- Zebra is two and a half hours long and has an actual intermission) is set largely on the ice surface on the trek to the station and exploring its burned remains. Absent some of the detail of submarine operations it's a little less engaging than the first, but the wider field of play offers more expansive action as each man's agenda moves toward its conclusion.
Zebra was a hit at the box office but not critically acclaimed. It does well with tension and authenticity and features some witty back and forth among the different leads but doesn't offer any breakout acting in its familiar story. But it's still an engaging submarine picture and serviceable thriller, in addition to being a whole lot of fun as mentioned above. Had the idea of the summer blockbuster been around in 1968, it would have fit nicely into the genre and easily been among the better ones onscreen.
(Those interested in some actual Cold-War era submarine spy work are encouraged to check out Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story Of American Submarine Espionage, a 1998 book by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew featuring stories of some of those activities.)