The most expensive German film ever made, Das Boot (the boat), is also among the most harrowing and the most honestly depicted. Here is a vivid account of war seen from "the other side," as in All Quiet on the Western Front. The U-boat campaign against Allied shipping in the Atlantic, headlined by newspapers during World War II as "the U-boat menace," is seen here from the vantage point of the men in the U-boats.
What strikes the viewer instantly and never ceases its onslaught throughout the picture are the extremely cramped quarters in which the U-boat men must live and do their work. The sense of confinement becomes so acute that viewers with claustrophobia will almost faint from the discomfort of watching it. Almost all the action of the film takes place in the narrow confines of a submarine (one wonders where they placed the cameras), and the sense of confinement grows gradually but inexorably through the film until even non-claustrophobic viewers are made to squirm. Besides the confinement, the danger and the unpredictability—when will the next attack come? from where? will it sink the sub?—are so effectively depicted that before the film is half over the viewer jumps (almost) on hearing the telltale noise of an approaching depth-charge.
The film takes no sides: the "Help me!" cries of the English sailors as they jump into the cold ocean off their burning ship (hit by a U-boat torpedo) while the men on the sub watch them drown—this is treated as sympathetically as the plight of the U-boat men themselves as they are dying for lack of air when the sub lies crippled on the ocean floor. Seldom has the gruesomeness of war been more vividly rendered.
Victor/Victoria may be a compendium of comic gimmickry, but the comic twists are exercised on a subject fairly new to films (one's sexual identity), and the comic situations have the advantage of exploring a terrain that has scarcely been worked before. A woman posing as a man who is posing as a woman (Julie Andrews) is about as adroit a character twist as one could come up with, and the effects on the men involved (Robert Preston, James Garner) are riotous.
Most comedies depend on a small number of predictable plot twists. The main virtue of this film is that the twists are not easily predictable and there is no end to them. The film is densely textured: there are no inert interludes, no interstitial spaces; every minute contains some new and unexpected zany development, and just when one thinks a situation has been milked for all it can carry, a new and even more riotous development emerges. This happens again and again, and there is no let-up in this titillation of the audience during the entire two hours—except when Julie Andrews is singing.
Still, it's a long way from the innocent Julie Andrews of The Sound of Music—and a long way too from the last time Andrews and Garner were paired in a film, that marvelous World War II romance, The Americanization of Emily. Though the story of Victor/Victoria is set in Paris in the '30s, we are in a different world in this one.
The Australians don't always come up with a blockbuster, but they can be relied on to give us something solid and genuine, without affectation or exploitation. Tim is the latest in a series of these solid and satisfying films. An attractive but lonely lady (Piper Laurie) hires a mentally defective young man (Mel Gibson) to take care of her yard. He falls in love with her, and (gradually) she with him. His family—mother, father, jealous sister—are portrayed with honesty and realism; and the sequence of events—marriage of sister, death of parents, tension with upper-class in-laws—is depicted much as it would probably happen in real life. Weddings, funerals, bereavements, outbursts of jealousy, all carry the ring of truth. Through meticulous attention to revealing detail, this small domestic drama is made extraordinarily moving and effective.
John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His recent books are Understanding the Arts and Human Conduct (2nd ed.).
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".