Ship of Lost Men (Das Shiff der Verlorene Menschen)

“Although unsubtitled, this rich melodrama has few subtleties, and is very easy to follow. Escaped criminal Gaston Modot, doctor Robin Irvine, and American aviatrix/heiress Dietrich (in German melodramas, all American girls were heiresses and usually very adventurous!) wind up (through accident, design or shanghai-kidnap) on the hellship of Fritz Kortner. A mutiny is planned and carried out, and help summoned. That's about all the plot there is, and all one loses through the titles are the occasional motivations. It was one of the last German silents, made when sound was already a fait-accompli, and thus quickly lost in the shuffle. Like all of Tourneur's work, it is of remarkable pictorial quality. Some incredible stylised street sets are there for only a moment or two, and the huge ocean liner, with its spacious ballroom, is an art-director's (and ocean-traveller's!) dream. Composition and lighting throughout stress Tourneur's painter-like quality, although alas this print does not do him justice. Copied from a beautiful 35mm original, it has lost a good deal of luminosity and lustre due to second-rate U.S. lab work. However, the beauty can be sensed if not always fully seen, and even in this rather soft print, it is still impressive. For a rugged melodrama, its pace is a bit sluggish, but it does erupt into violent action every so often. The cast is a typical international one of the period (Gaston Modot is perhaps best remembered from the silent Miracle of the Wolves and Renoir's sound La Grande Illusion) with Robin Irvine (from Hitchcock's Easy Virtue) in for the British market. Considering how plump she seemed in her very next picture, The Blue Angel, Dietrich is surprisingly svelte and attractive (she denies ever having made the film, incidentally!) and it's interesting to see Tourneur handling her as though she had already established a screen mystique, cagily withholding her introductory closeup for as long as he can, and staging her entrance much as Sternberg was to later stage many a Dietrich entrance.”

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