I thought that I had seen most of Hitch's output, when Amazon directed me towards this neglected gem. I had never come across it, and drawn by the names 'Hitchcock' and 'Steinbeck' in a Masters of Cinema imprime, I figured what the hell and gave it the proverbial punt.
I am very glad that I did.
It's a wartime release, but like the excellent 'Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' (Powell and Pressburger), it does not fit the pattern of a standard flag waver. It would have been problematic at its release, not least in certain parts of America due to the sympathetic portrayal of the single black character in the boat. The characters are disparate and stereotypical, thrown together into the social melting pot of the boat by the 'master of suspense' himself (he still managed to make his customary appearance btw, although it is a little slimmed down even by his usual standards).
The performances are fine, helped by a spare Steinbeck style. Fans of Steinbeck will be rewarded in the way that the film deals with various themes that were of clear interest to the author elsewhere (small but dashed dreams, American treatment of the blacks pre-Civil Rights, etc.).
As noted by other reviewers, the film throws up some interesting moral questions, not least being what to do with a saved enemy sailor complicit in the sinking of your own boat, with its concommittent loss of life? The changing power dynamic in the lifeboat also makes for interesting viewing - you cannot help but wonder what you would have done in the same circumstances, which is a strength of the film.
I have now watched it a few times, and found it compelling each time, and repeat viewings are certainly rewarding.
The Blu-ray print is very good, with the audio as clean as you could expect. I have yet to see the two French wartime shorts included, so I cannot comment upon them, but I'm sure that they will shed further light on the evolving Hitchcock.
In sum, this represents a bit of a lost curio in the Hitchcock canon; it lacks the budget and production values of a 'Vertigo' or 'North by Northwest', but it more than stands on its own merits. Well worth a look (or three!).