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1939, the Germans have just declared war on Britain, but soon they find
out they lack force to really compete with the Brits on sea - so they come
up with a devillish plan: If they can send one submarine into Scapa Flow,
the British Navy's harbour, and do maximum damage, they might have at
least scared the pants off Britain - at least for a while, long enough to
build a sufficient fleet of submarines.
Captain Prien (Dieter Eppler) commandeers the sub that's heading for
BRitain, and against all odds, the campaign is not only a success, Prien's
sub even manages to make a clean getaway.
At home, Prien has become a celebrated hero. Only Kille, Prien's friend
from school who has in the meantime become a priest, can't join into the
party, because he knows the other side of (Nazi) Germany, where people are
sent to concentration camps and or killed just because they are Jews or troublemakers.
Kille even hides 11 Jews himself, and he asks Prien to help him, help
those people. Prien refuses, because he claims to be a soldier first,
politics don't interest him.
Back at sea, among the boats Prien and his crew sink is a ship full of
refugees. Prien's crew saves a couple of them, but when they learn they
are on a German ship, they jump back into the water, as even death
is better than back to the concentration camp. After this, Prien and his
whole crew begin thinking ...
Back on land, Prien's wife (Sabine Sesselmann) urges him to give up his
dangerous job, urges him to stay with her for good, and he is even asked
by the Navy to give up his command and train new submrine captains ... but
still, Prien is a soldier first, and he decides to stay with his crew.
Then he learns that Kille has been imprisoned and is about to be
executed. Now he uses his position, his fame within the Reich, to
at least have the execution postponed, but behind the courtains, the SS
already starts a file on him ...
Back at sea, Prien's sub is torpedoed but good, and only he and the
ship cook (Harald Juhnke) survived the ordeal and are saved by the British
sub that has sunk them ... then though another German sub - ironically
commandeered by Birkeneck (Joachim Fuchsberger), Prien's former first mate
and best friend - shows up and torpedoes the British sub, effectively
sinking it. But when Birkeneck finds Prien's captain hat (all that's left
of him) among the debris of the British vessel, tears start filling up his
eyes, and he is detracted long enough to let British bomber planed bomb
his submarine, too, to kingdom come.
Not without its lengths or without clichés, this is actually a very
interesting and self-reflexive World War II-movie that doesn't
automatically go only for cheap answers but has second thoughts about its
characters - mostly German soldiers, but soldiers first, Germans only
second or third - and the moral dilemmas they are in, up to the point
where the lead character purposely turns the other way when his friend,
the priest, asks for his help. And director Harald Reinl manages to turn
this very downbeat concept into an exciting (anti-)war movie nevertheless,
easily overcoming the budgetary contraints as if he had never filmed
anything else but war movies - even though this one and Die Grünen Teufel von Monte Cassino
where his first two entries into that genre after filming Heimat
films (very cheesy conservative rural ddramas) for years.
Granted, U47 Kapitänleutnant Prien might not be the best anti
war movie ever, but it's definitely worth a look.