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Kino on Video presents
S.O.S. Iceberg (1933)

Dragen: We're going to risk our lives looking for a corpse.
Brand: That's how it is, Dragen. That's how it is.

- Gibson Gowland, Sepp Rist

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: November 07, 2005

Stars: Leni Riefenstahl, Gustav Diessi, Sepp Rist, Gibson Gowland, Rod La Rocque, Ernst Udet
Director: Arnold Fanck, Tay Garnett

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence against animals, mild language
Run Time: 01:26:19
Release Date: November 08, 2005
UPC: 738329042226
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-C+C+ D-

DVD Review

With S.O.S. Iceberg (S.O.S. Eisberg), Arnold Fanck moved his typical man-against-nature film from the mountain ranges he loved to another, even more hostile environment: the icy surroundings of Greenland. If you've watched other Fanck films like Storm Over Mont Blanc, much of the set-up is the same: people get into trouble, they must be rescued, glorious visuals frame the drama. This time, the story is expanded by featuring a party of people who are placed in dire straits, and Kino's DVD provides extra interest by including the American version of the film, directed primarily by Tay Garnett. Featuring an entirely different slant than the Fanck version, it makes for a fascinating comparison between what Fanck's vision versus the Hollywood studio version.

The story is basically the same across both: a scientist has been lost amid the arctic wastes of Greenland, and the rescue crew come to look for him discovers he has made an attempt to reach an Eskimo settlement some distance off. Finding evidence that he is possibly still alive, they head off in the same direction, but must follow the same potentially suicidal route: jumping from one ice floe to the next as if they were rafts or stepping stones, knowing full well these could collapse or melt at any time. The group comes to be stranded on an iceberg floating out to sea, desperate for rescue and running out of food.

Both stories stem from the initial scientist lost making a foolhardy, selfish decision to go off on his own to pursue his research. From there, the focus of the two versions branches off while generally keeping to the same overall story. The German version is pure Fanck, with numerous shots of the surrounding scenery interspersed and given as much importance as the actual plot and characters; the scenery itself is a character for Fanck. In the American version, the story is placed in the forefront, with several scenes added to provide audiences with more of an explanation for the events of the film. The German version leaves many things open to question. It should surprise no one that the American version runs 10 minutes less than the German version, given the lack of emphasis on the scenery. I liked both versions, for different reasons; the German version, with its emphasis on scenery, gives more weight to the predicament the men are in, whereas the American version moves along at a faster clip and with a more coherent (though still hole-ridden) story. Fortunately, we don't have to choose, and Kino is to be commended for including them both.

The characters remain generally the same across both films, with two notable exceptions. The lost scientist is played by an actor unique to each version, Gustav Diessl in the German, and Rod La Rocque in the American. Also, the character of Dragen (Gibson Gowland) is reshaped in the American version as the expedition financier, and a novice at outdoor survival. His presence in the rescue party is thus rendered highly illogical in the American version, but his presence in the original German version made it necessary to include him in the other.

The American version makes the notable change of giving Lorenz/Lawrence (the names are changed in the respective versions), the scientist who started everything by running off, the final line in the film, one in which he tells the other survivors how the members of the rescue party that died saving him wouldn't do so in vain (though there is no indication as to what benefit their deaths did actually serve, other than Lawrence's hide). The German version simply ends where it ends, with no lessons learned or attempts at remorse by Lorenz. The American version also makes sure the audience knows that the rescue party's dog survives, even giving it a credit. In the German version, we see the dog struggling on an ice floe, presumably to die in the water.

Without getting into further back and forth on the two versions, it should be noted that they share a number of story points that revolve around what appears to my non-arctic explorer eyes to be flat-out idiocy on the parts of the participants. Starting with Lorenz/Lawrence's initial decision to leave, to the sheer lunacy of the plan to follow him, to Hannes' (Sepp Rist) decision to try to make for the coast via a combination of swimming/ice floe surfing, to showing us Hella's (Leni Riefenstahl) status as an ace pilot, only to see her drive her plane into the side of the iceberg, prompting the plane to burn up, and so on. The basic premise of the film is rock solid; it simply needs a sound script to make it work, and neither film totally takes advantage of that.

The acting is generally fine, though the German actors have been dubbed in the American version (you can see them speaking English, though), and the dubbing varies in quality. The actors, especially Sepp Rist, should have been commended, or maybe that should be committed, for agreeing to some of the onscreen work they do, with Rist spending what looks like a dangerous amount of time in freezing waters (this was shot on location), and Riefenstahl and other cast members plunging in the waters as well, not to mention the ice floe jumping. It's the sort of thing we will never see the likes of again, I think it's safe to say.

Animal cruelty warning: for those offended by such things, both versions of the film include a brief shot of the harpooning a polar bear.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The German version looks decent, though it suffers from minor print defects. Detail and contract levels are acceptable. The American version is more beat up, with a greater amount of print damage and varying levels of contrast and detail, some scenes looking a bit blurry. The German version includes optional English subtitles; the English version has no subtitles.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoGerman, Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The German track sounds fine, solidly reproducing the music and dialogue. The American version is much weaker, with distortion and harshness throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Flexbox
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Just a photo gallery, although the English version could be considered an extra. The grades above were based on an average of the two versions, so I am grading the extras on the basis of everything else.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

More interesting for its differing German/American versions than the actual film itself, S.O.S. Iceberg does have its dramatically compelling moments, though story weaknesses short circuit what could have been a more effective film, given the high concept story. While devoid of extras, the presence of both versions makes for an interesting disc.


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