C.J. Rittenhouse: My only regret is…that in the end…I joined a mob
Connie: Baloney. We weren’t a mob when we killed him. We were a mob when we sat around–prisoners of the man we saved–kowtowing to him, obeying him…practically “heiling” him, because he was kind enough and strong enough to take us to a concentration camp!
The story of nine people trapped on a lifeboat after their ship has been sunk by a Nazi submarine. 7 Americans, one British sailor, and the captain of the German submarine who was the only survivor after the sub itself was sunk in retaliatory fire.
This masterwork of Hitchcock is an allegory for society. Each character is representative of a certain segment of society. The German is representative of the thugs who would take control at any point in time. The rest of the occupants represent the rest of society from the lower to upper classes.
I realize that, as a lesser known and older film, some of you might need a very general plot outline. No need to worry about spoilers, because it is the character development and themes that are important to this film, the plot is just the vehicle through which these two are developed.
While the initial thought is to at first throw the Nazi overboard, “cooler” heads led by the distinctly upper-class passengers (paralleling the upper-class isolationism prevalent in the era) prevail in a call for justice and due process, and they don’t do the right thing and kill the Nazi. This, no shocker, turns out to be a very bad call. Because the minute there is a disaster (in this case a storm) the representative of the self-proclaimed master race takes over the ship (having done his fair share to already drive them off course, set the others against one another, and destroy their water supply). However the reign of this mini-third Reich doesn’t last long for when in response to his killing of an invalid the six remaining members rise up against their tyrant and kill him. Finally, after a period of hopelessness they begin again to fight to survive and are rescued almost as soon.
Why is this patriotic?
Because it shows that while we falter and fail sometimes, while we sometimes buy into the sweet talk of someone who promises us salvation, we never fall for it long. It is the characters that represent the middle class, or as close as you can get when you only have nine people, who lead the charge to take down the tyrant. Yes the upper classes characters try to be the leader, and fail early on because of their arrogance…and yes the lower class characters talk a good game about democracy and right, but they yield almost faster than anyone…but it is that distinctly American middle class that when pushed far enough fights back with everything they have leaving no survivors in their path.
What’s the matter with us? We not only let the Nazi do our rowing for us, but our thinking!
Because after getting rid of the Nazi they all give into self pity and fear that they will all die. But it is the one character who clawed her way out of the slums and into a world of famous celebrity, that is the person who most exemplifies the American Dream of not being tied to the class you are born into, who finally rallies them all to still fight to live and find a way to make it through this.
And there are a hundred small little things that show the superiority of capitalism and democracy (but I can’t say as much that these are only American virtues…a lot of praise does need to go to Britain during this era as well…but it just seems wrong to lavish too much praise on my beloved British this close to the 4th). And this movie is also not short on critique of what is wrong with our culture. Racism, lack of spirituality, dishonesty, shallowness, materialism, and a myriad of other flaws are also on display. But then again what other culture so readily is willing to admit its own flaws and shortcoming when looking for what makes it great?.