The film follows the Edna Ferber novel in telling the story of Zeb Kennedy (Richard Burton) and Thor Storm (Robert Ryan), Alaska settlers in the period following World War I. Kennedy works his way up through the Alaskan fish cannery business, befriending Wang, a Chinese worker (George Takei), and Storm, an idealistic fishing boat captain. Kennedy and Storm begin to plan a cannery together in the fictional Alaskan town of Baranof, when Kennedy falls for Bridie Ballantyne, Storm's fiancée (Carolyn Jones). The feeling is reciprocated, but Kennedy chooses money over love, marrying Seattle heiress Dorothy Wendt (Martha Hyer). When Storm discovers his disappointed fiancée's infidelity, he punches out Kennedy and flees into the wilderness on a dog sled.
Kennedy launches a packing company in Baranof, hiring Wang as well as his old friend, Dave Husack (Jim Backus). His persistent feelings for Ballantyne, now abandoned by her fiancé, are no secret to his wife. The Kennedys give birth to a daughter, Grace. Storm returns to Baranof with an infant son, Christopher, born to an Eskimo wife who died after labor. Over the following years, Storm comes to resent Kennedy for his cannery's use of salmon traps, which are depleting the salmon population and putting fishermen out of business. Meanwhile, their children, Christopher (Steve Harris) and Grace (Shirley Knight), begin a romance. Kennedy tells Storm to keep his "half-breed kid" away from his daughter. Storm, drawing on the support of fishermen and Alaska natives, becomes a candidate for the Alaska Territorial Legislature on a platform advocating statehood and opposing the excesses of business mogul "Czar" Kennedy. Christopher and Grace elope to live among Christopher's maternal relations in the fictional village of Anavak. Grace's mother, Dorothy Kennedy dies.
Grace becomes pregnant, and the young couple decides to make a journey to Baranof so that the child is born there. They set off by dog sled, but Grace begins labor en route, and Christopher is waylaid by a bear and killed. Grace's father, Zeb, along with Thor and "Aunt" Bridie, intercept and shoot the bear. Grace gives birth to a baby girl, Christine, but dies. Christine grows up between the houses of Ballantyne and her feuding grandfathers, Kennedy and Storm. Kennedy grooms Dave Husack's son, Bay (Ray Danton), to be his champion in the territorial legislature. He encourages the young lawyer to marry Christine for political advantage. Ballantyne discovers and exposes the plot, and the engagement is broken.
Storm, on a flight to Juneau, is forced by a snowstorm to make a crash landing on a glacier. Ballantyne prevails on Kennedy to make a risky flight to save Storm and his pilot, an Eskimo named Ross Guildenstern (Sheridan Comerate). Storm survives, and his speeches before Congress are decisive in winning approval for Alaska's statehood. Victorious, Storm gives a conciliatory radio address, thanking erstwhile statehood opponent Kennedy.Richard Burton as Zeb Kennedy
Robert Ryan as Thor Storm
Carolyn Jones as Bridie Ballantyne
Martha Hyer as Dorothy Wendt Kennedy
Jim Backus as Dave Husack
Ray Danton as Bay Husack
Diane McBain as Christine Storm
Karl Swenson as Scotty Ballantyne
Shirley Knight as Grace Kennedy
Barry Kelley as Einer Wendt
Sheridan Comerate as Ross Guildenstern
George Takei as Wang
Steve Harris as Christopher Storm
The rights to Ice Palace were sold to Warner Brothers for $350,000 before the novel was published. Warner Brothers had already had a success with a 1956 adaptation of another Edna Ferber novel, Giant.
The film was shot in part in Petersburg, Alaska.
Ice Palace was the motion picture debut of George Takei and Diane McBain.
Ice Palace was a commercial and critical failure. A Ferber biography described it as "glacial at the box office." The New York Times reviewer called it "as false and synthetic a screen saga as has rolled out of a color camera" and "no more authentic than cornstarch snow on a studio set."