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Giancarlo Del Duca
This May Well Be The Best to Date Version of "The Lightship" (Das Feuerschiff)
This fine film screened on US TV under the title "Crime On The High Seas", it also won the 'Best German Film Award' of 1963. The semi allegorical story, written by prominent Polish born novelist Siegfried Lenz in 1960 as 'Das Feuerschiff' (the book remains in print today) has been filmed 3 times to date. Lenz is also known throughout the world for his iconic 1968 - highly regarded novel: "The German Lesson".
For the original story of 'The Lightship', humanist Lenz, cleverly weaves a brutal conventional crime story, into a situation offering a symbolic parable to the drive for power of all destructive forces (IE: the Nazi party and other war mongers, who use bulling tactics to control vulnerable communities) Within the situations he sets up he exposes the devastating impact these forces inflict on the innocent by-stander. Lenz thoughtfully creates an illustration that perhaps invites the viewer to consider the adage: "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing".
The young Lenz was drafted into the German Navy, but he defected to Denmark, turning himself over to the British he became a prisoner of war, interned in Schleswig-Holstein. For the majority of his life he has artistically expressed regret felt amongst many Germans for the damage inflicted on the world by certain people, under their infamous fuhrer. In latter years he has been awarded the prestigious Goethe prize, as well as the German Book Club Peace prize.
Having seen the 1985 American re-make of 'The Lightship', I personally felt this earlier film out shone the rather poorly constructed later production - with many scenes failing to gel, it tended to leave much of the original stories depth, lost at sea. But, if you haven't seen the original and color is important to you, it might please.
The '63 vers also had the distinction of being one of few films to feature London born (of strong Scottish ancestry) James Robertson Justice in an important dramatic lead. Justice is better known for a string of British comedies, as well as 'The Guns of Navarone' in '61. He was a reasonably good choice for the role of Captain of the Lightship, having himself felt the sting of Nazism while earlier serving as a policeman with the League of Nations, in a region under German governance. While Justice had a command of many languages, including German, he here speaks English. Other cast members include prolific German actor: Dieter Borsche and Helmut Wildt as Dr Caspary.
The Director is multi talented Austrian-Hungarian born Ladislao Vajda, who is known for the controversial "It Happened in Broad Daylight" '58 and the charming "Miracle of Marcelino" '55, ~ writing one of the stories that made up "The Story of Three Loves" '53, also writing the play "Grounds for Divorce", that played on stage in the UK. The screenplay was adapted for the screen by German born, American based Curt Siodmak, who has a long mixed bag of work to his credit including: "Berlin Express" '48 ~ "Donovan's Brain" '53 ~ "Hauser's Memory" '70, and the classic: "The Wolfman" 41.
The Cinematographer was German: Heinz Pehlice who in '59 shot the atmospheric "Ship of The Dead". I have not yet seen the 2008 version of 'Lightship', made for TV, but hope that experience may come soon. As for the original, it seems the German Film Institute hold a print and rights of this important work. In the era of DVDS, etc, it's criminal this version has remained unavailable to the world. One hopes a TV station or cable may see their way to screening it after so long neglected. Watch for it, or find it...if you can!
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