John Steinbeck’s devastating indictment of the nature of Nazi bestiality, at times an almost clinical, dissecting room analysis, emerges as powerful adult motion picture fare.
The picture is based on an original idea of director Alfred Hitchcock’s. Hitchcock, from accounts, first asked Steinbeck to write the piece for book publication, figuring that if it turned out a big seller the exploitation value for film purposes would be greatly enhanced. The author, however, would not undertake the more ambitious assignment and wrote the story for screen purposes only, with Jo Swerling handling the adaptation.
Patterned along one of the simplest, most elementary forms of dramatic narration, the action opens and closes on a lifeboat. It’s a lusty, robust story about a group of survivors from a ship sunk by a U-boat. One by one the survivors find precarious refuge on the lifeboat. Finally they pick up a survivor from the German U-boat. He is first tolerated and then welcomed into their midst. And he repays their trust and confidence with murderous treachery.
Walter Slezak, as the German, comes through with a terrific delineation. Henry Hull as the millionaire, William Bendix as the mariner with a jitterbug complex who loses a leg, John Hodiak as the tough, bitter, Nazi-hater, and Canada Lee as the colored steward, deliver excellent characterizations.
Hitchcock pilots the piece skillfully, ingeniously developing suspense and action. Despite that it’s a slow starter, the picture, from the beginning, leaves a strong impact and, before too long, develops into the type of suspenseful product with which Hitchcock has always been identified.
1944: Nominations: Best Director, Original Story, B&W Cinematography