A review of the classic German war film “Das Boot”

“The Boat” is a German war film with an interesting genesis and aftermath. In 1941, war correspondent Lothar-Günther Buchheim joined German submarine U-96 on a patrol as part of the hard-fought Battle of the Atlantic. In 1973, he published a best-selling novel called simply “Das Boot” based on his experiences aboard U-96. Wolfgang Petersen then wrote and directed a film of the same title based on the novel and this was released in its initial theatrical form in 1981 (how I first viewed it) and then as a director’s cut in 1997 (how I subsequently saw it).

The first version lasted two and a half hours, while the director’s cut ran to three and a half hours. In between the two cinematic versions, German television broadcast a five-hour version as a mini series.

Quite rightly the work has been both a commercial and a critical success and viewing it is a nerve-wracking experience. It is very rare for a non-English speaking film to receive an Academy Award nomination outside of the Best Foreign Film category, but “Das Boat” received no less than six (although it did not actually win any).

The film had one of the largest budgets in the history of German cinema and the sets and sound are terrific with the claustrophobic nature of the submarine constantly hammered home. The captain of the real U-96 during Buchheim’s 1941 patrol served as a consultant which ensured the authenticity of the operation although some of the narrative is fiction. A fine cast is led by Jürgen Prochnow as the submarine captain.


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