This is Don’t Get on That Boat! week. Lifeboat is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Lifeboat (1944) – NR – Not Rated.
“Using a story by John Steinbeck as inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock stages a gripping World War II drama by cramming eight survivors of a German torpedo attack into the hull of a tiny lifeboat — among them, a magazine writer (Tallulah Bankhead), a radio operator (Hume Cronyn) and a crazy woman (Heather Angel) clutching the corpse of her dead baby. But the real trouble starts when one of the survivors (Walter Slezak) reveals he’s a Nazi.”
“Dying together is even more personal than living together.”
This movie begins excellently. The credits happen while we are looking at a smokestack. Immediately after the credits, we watch the smokestack sink into the sea. Hitchcock then pans over the flotsam from the Allied ship as well as a German sailor face-down.
There is another marvelous scene where an impromptu operation has to be performed. Obviously the particulars couldn’t be shown. Hitchcock shows the preparation and everyone gathers around blocking the view. The shot then shows an empty boot being tossed onto a plank.
Lifeboat was nominated (but did not win) for three Oscars. Hitchcock received one of his many nominations for director. Glen MacWilliams was nominated for Best Cinematography, Black and White.
John Steinbeck (yes THAT John Steinbeck) was nominated for Best Writing, Original Story. He wrote this story specifically for Hitchcock. Steinbeck was very upset with the finished product.
A number of elements were changed from his story. In particular was some rather shameful racism. Joe (Canada Lee) was called Charcoal a number of times early in the film and his character is often treated with condescension.
Hitchcock loves to match an every-man type with a glamorous woman in his films. Tallulah Bankhead fits the glamorous role brilliantly. Her initial hairdo should win an award. The gradual disintegration of her looks and wardrobe is fun to watch. Tallulah herself caught pneumonia twice while filming this.
When Alfred Hitchcock was informed that Tallulah Bankhead wasn’t wearing any underwear, he famously said “I don’t know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing.”
The rest of the ensemble cast is quite good but are clearly overshadowed by Tallulah. John Kodiak plays the everyman Kovac (usually the focus of a Hitchcock picture but not here). A very young Hume (Cocoon, The World According to Garp) Cronyn plays Sparks. Henry Hull has a lot of fun with his role as Rittenhouse as does William Bendix as Gus.
Aside from the unfortunate racism, this is an excellent film and well worth watching. It is in black and white and is certainly a bit jingoistic. Keep in mind that this was released while we were still at war with those nasty Nazis. There is even a brief war bond ad at the end of the film before it abruptly cuts off.
People Watch: Hitchcock’s ubiquitous cameo occurs on a newspaper ad on the boat.