ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC. Warner Brothers, 1943. Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Massey, Alan Hale, Julie Bishop, Ruth Gordon, Sam Levene, Dane Clark, Glenn Strange, and Ludwig Stossel. Written by John Howard Lawson, Guy Gilpatric, A.I. Bezzerides, and W.R. Burnett. Directed by Lloyd Bacon (and uncredited Raoul Walsh & Byron Haskin.)

DAS BOOT (THE BOAT). German, 1981. Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gronemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, and Martin May. Written & directed by Wolfgang Petersen, based on the novel by Lothar Buccheim,

   A contemporary view and a weary look back from the other side.

   Action in the North Atlantic enlists Warners stock company into the Merchant Marine and pits them against ruthless Nazi U-Boat commanders as they ply the war-torn Atlantic (where else?) with much-needed supplies for the good guys.

   When it’s not bogged down by patriotic speeches and propaganda scenes, this is a dandy action flick with outstanding special effects: Massive convoys, ships blowing apart, U-Boats cruising the depths, and a freighter pulled to shore by hordes of cheering Russians, all done on studio sets, and done to mesh visually with the film as a whole — never quite convincing to my jaded eyes, but never jarringly unconvincing either.

   Unfortunately, when things aren’t blowing up there’s that script to get through. Bezzerides and Burnett, two authors I highly regard, are credited with “additional dialogue” and I sincerely hope they didn’t spew this hokum. Every time the action flags, someone has to raise an idiot question about the purpose of all this, and get patly put down by right-thinking Americans. Even when Bogey slugs some guy in a bar, it’s not just because he’s bothering the pretty chanteuse; the lout’s also blabbing about outgoing cargo boats in front of a “Loose Lips” sign.

   Almost forty years later, the Germans took a jaundiced but no less heroic look back at the same year in the same theater of operations. Das Boot opens with a celebratory orgy attended by outgoing naval officers drunk to walking-comatose state, the veterans trying to keep a straight face among the fiery youths shipping out for adventure and the glory of the Reich. Quite a contrast to Warners’ Action, but oddly moving in its own way.

   Once we get into the U-Boat, director Petersen and cinematographer Jost Vocano integrate smoothly into the cramped confines, with long tracking shots jostling through crowded passageways, tight close-ups and a camera that never seems more than elbow-length away from anything. Where Action in the North Atlantic goes for spectacle, Das Boot builds tension, with long stretches of fruitless patrolling, men getting on each other’s nerves, and a short burst of action that leads into even more tension as depth charges echo around the sub, and men bounce around like marbles in a tin can.

   The special effects here are on a smaller scale, but quite as effective as the showier stuff in Action. And in terms of character, the relatively unknown (to me) cast of Boot seemed more real than the actors I know and love from the earlier film. But this is not a put-down. Taken together, the two films make a fascinating and fun-to watch contrast as history seen then and seen now.