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!).
A merchant ship is torpedoed and sunk by the Germans, leaving only a handful of survivors in the process. Finding a lifeboat to share, the survivors are thrown into conflict when one of the survivors turns out to be the captain of the U-boat that sunk their ship.
Lifeboat is a truly fine Alfred Hitchcock picture, it's a little undervalued, and most probably under seen due to not getting a worthy DVD transfer until the new millennium. Adapted from a John Steinbeck story, Lifeboat finds Hitchcock experimenting with a single set picture that is awash with propaganda and containing a cast that are across the bows, both endearing and totally interesting. Really tho, it's with the moral posers and quandary heart that Lifeboat becomes a great picture, different classes and oddly assorted persona's are forced to survive as one unit, but invariably a fly in the ointment could turn out to be a catalyst of sorts, not only for this group's possible survival, but in mental fortitude's and their respective capabilities under duress.
Very interesting film from the maestro director, with Tallulah Bankhead, Willian Bendix, John Hodiak and Walter Slezak turning in very enjoyable performances. Lifeboat is unusual in the sense of Hitchcock's other well known pictures, but it definitely finds him very much on form and very much laying down a marker for the genius that was to come. 9/10
Which is probably one of Hitchcock's lesser known films, was made in 1944, and considering it's situated on a small boat throughout the 96 minutes of the Film quite a feat really keeping the viewers interested that long. A boat get's attacked by a German U-boat and lay shipwrecked, and they come across a German survivor and questions of morality come into play; should they feed him and treat him fairly as a POW or throw him off the boat? though good job it wasn't today he'd be beaten up mugged and thrown over.
Hume Cronyn as Stanley "Sparks" Garrett Mary Anderson as Alice MacKenzie Tallulah Bankhead as Constance "Connie" Porter William Bendix as Gus Smith Walter Slezak as Willi John Hodiak as John Kovac Henry Hull as Charles D. "Ritt" Rittenhouse Heather Angel as Mrs. Higgins Canada Lee as George "Joe" Spencer William Yetter Jr. as German sailor Hitchcock was even able to maintain his custom cameo this time appearing on a newspaper advert about weight loss, the film was generally well received but did come across some controversy showing the German as a likeable character which is true throughout the film, but Hitchcock does show that the German has something to hide and that he is not trust worthy but he does it subtly. And that works well. I mean come on if a German enemy soldier gets rescued by a bunch of Americans or English he's not exactly going to act all cliché villain. The film though is quite clichéd when it comes to the characters.
-The Blu Ray release-
well the dual edition steel book is very nice, which comes with a pretty informative 36 page booklet, special feature wise
New high-definition transfers of Hitchcock's little-seen French-language 1944 wartime films, Bon voyage (26 minutes) and Aventure malgache (31 minutes) officially licensed from the British Film Institute Optional English subtitles on all three films 20-minute documentary on the making of Lifeboat 12-minute excerpt from the legendary 1962 audio interviews between Hitchcock and François Truffaut, discussing Lifeboat and the wartime shorts PLUS: A 36-page booklet featuring archival imagery alongside new writing by critics Bill Krohn, Arthur Mas, and Martial Pisani Though the picture itself won't exactly wow you, well it is from 1944 but the picture is probably the best this film will look and is not terrible, though the 4:3 screen why the two black bars at the side are very off putting.
but all in all a very good and worthy part to add to the collection .
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 film may have had its propagandist eye on the war situation at the time, with its not-so-well disguised warnings against any hints of latent pacifism or appeasement, but Lifeboat nevertheless works well as a tense, character-based human drama, touching on issues of morality and sparsely populated with some nice moments of dark humour. Hitch had originally commissioned John Steinbeck to write the film’s screenplay before passing it to screenwriter Jo Swerling for completion – Steinbeck was unhappy with the film’s political characterisations and attempted to disown his part in it. Hitch regarded the film’s concept of such a confined drama as a technical challenge, one which he largely met via its studio set-bound depiction, the film’s sense of claustrophobia being a particular strongpoint.
As the nine survivors from a North Atlantic civilian ship/U-boat conflict gather on the lifeboat, the film’s sets up the group dynamic and socio-political themes nicely. Film-stealer Tallulah Bankhead’s well-to-do journalist, Connie Porter, sees the exploitative angle of the situation, whilst John Hodiac’s jingoistic crewman, John Kovac condemns any feelings of compassion for Walter Slezak’s duplicitous German sailor, Willi, also washed aboard the drifting vessel. Personal tragedies (uncompromisingly depicted) engulf Heather Angel’s young mother, Mrs Higley, and William Bendix’s injured, but chirpy, serviceman, Gus Smith, whilst physical demands caused by a violent storm and lack of water dominate over any wistful feelings of nostalgia for home and peacetime. Equally, even if the characterisations of Slezak’s German and Canada Lee’s 'stock Negro’, Joe Spencer, are overly stereotypical (the latter being the primary reason for Steinbeck’s dissatisfaction), Hitch still manages to capture the increasing tension, personal conflicts and questions of morality vs. political affiliations very effectively (even if the film’s depiction of a strong, well-organised German attracted much criticism at the time). Also, from the film’s (obviously by modern-day standards, fairly rudimentary) technical standpoint, it impresses with some skilful close-ups and use of limited physical space by cinematographer Glen MacWilliams, as well as a number of impressive sequences, such as that where Smith’s boot is discarded and the film’s spectacular denouement. Also, look out for Hitch’s 'cameo’ as the Reduco obesity slayer!
For me, therefore, not absolutely top drawer Hitch but still impressive and quite original conceptually.
This 1944 film is an interesting and unusual work of war time propaganda, but definitely better than most of such productions. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
Somewhere in the North Atlantic, during the World War II, an allied armed cargo ship and an U-Boat meet and fight - and they both go down. This fight is actualy NOT shown. The film begins after the fight is over and the whole action takes place on a lifeboat on which gathered the few survivors from the cargo ship - and the only survivor from the U-Boat, a certain Willy (Walter Slezak, an actor of Austrian origin).
This being a Hitchcock film, it was clear that it was going to be a good one - but it was made even better by the scenario written by John Steinbeck in person...
I will not say much more about the story, because you really deserve to discover it by yourself. I will also not say much about the characters, to avoid spoilers - let's just say that the people on the lifeboat, as they were gathered there by accident and pure luck, are a very diverse bunch.
Actors did very well, even if they are today almost all forgotten. Special mentions go to the most known of them, Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix. She plays here Connie Porter, a very liberated, aging female journalist - he plays Gus Smith, a badly wounded sailor.
I cannot resist so I must repeat here something that I found in the trivias about this film. Tallulah Bankhead had to climb a ladder every day to reach the tank where the filming took place - and as she never wore underwear she regularly received an ovation from the film crew... When advised of this underwear situation, Alfred Hitchcock answered dryly "What do you want me to do? I don't even know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing."...)))
Even if all the scenes were filmed in a studio, Hitchcock insisted on realism and regularly sprayed all the cast with cold salt water (for some scenes it was mixed with black oil)... As result most of the cast went down with pneumonia before the filming was over - luckily, nobody died of it...
The realism of the film is also strengthened by the very useful reminder that, at least in the first three and a half years of the war, German U-Boats and surface raiders in the Atlantic were also efficiently assisted by supply ships, which could make cruises as long as a year, avoiding detection by allies...
I am going to end this review here to avoid any more spoilers, but I will just say this here - this is a Hitchcock film, so be ready for anything and everything. Me, I was surprised and shocked by the ending - so brace yourself...
This is a very good, unusual, original and surprising little known film. ENJOY!
The first image is that of a ship sinking beneath the waves. Then, the camera shows us the flotsam and jetsam of the aftermath of the sinking. Gradually, into view comes a lifeboat carrying a glamorous, well-dressed woman. One by one, more survivors pull themselves aboard, until we have a small band of disparate people, including a member of the crew of the ship which sunk the vessel. This, one of Hitch's most unusual films, was filmed in a watertank on the backlot at Paramount studios. The lead was the glamorous actress Talulah Bankhead, better known for her stage-work, in her only film for Hitch. The point of the film is to show how a heterogeneous band of strangers meld together, making and breaking alliances as the need arises, and finding the inner resources that reside within us all. Gradually, Ms Bankhead's character loses all that makes her what she was, until she is faced with her true self, learning about others on the way. Rumour has it that Ms Bankhead wore no underwear when climbing into the tank; when this was brought to Hitch's attention, he said that he wasn't sure whether this was a matter for wardrobe, make-up, or hairdressing. Also, during the making of the film, Hitch went on a diet and lost 100 lbs.; when the miracle product shows up in the film, he was inundated with requests for the product. The film is excellent, and really different from the mainstream, and the presentation of this two-disc set is really excellent. It comes in a nice-looking and solid metal case, and includes a leaflet giving background to the film. The extras include an hour-long talk with Hitch, which includes some truly fascinating snippets: what a change from modern interview technique! The interviewer, rather than fawning over the master, asks pertinent questions about his work and his modus operendi. The only downside is the truly tedious commentary from a Hitch expert - banal and repetitive and telling us nothing we didn't already know. This apart, however, the package is excellent and great value.
1944-released film by the master, Hitchcock, unusual in being cleverly confined to the said single Lifeboat with a bunch of mismatched characters, survivors from a sunken North Atlantic supply ship, who undergo some frightful ordeals on the way to hopeful rescue. The film to me stopped somewhat short without total surety that they were actually going to be picked up - SPOILER****after all, the German ship was about to grab them until the supposed Allied one blew it up, but it was only seen as a puff of smoke miles away...after what they'd been through nothing was sure *** Oh well. Excellent performances from all actors who clearly endured hardships in Paramount's water tank! Wonder how many wished they hadn't signed up for it? Tallulah's German is hot stuff but completely wierd that although subtitles are provided on my Lovefilm disc the considerable amount of German dialogue between her and Willi is not translated!! What?? Why are we denied that important part of the script? Luckily my rusty knowledge of German gave me more insight to what was going on but this is not only bizarre but unfair to others with who don't speak the language. It's a haughty attitude that other languages don't matter - have found in the past that many other films brush off snippets of "foreign" dialogue in subtitles by just putting "Speaks in French" or "Speaks in German" etc. Just lazy. FYI: Disc has additional fascinating features: 20 min comment on the Making of Lifeboat 12 min recording of discussion between Hitch and Truffaut 26 min 1944 short film in French (that IS translated - go figure) called Bon Voyage plus 31 min 1944 Aventure Malgache (Madagascan Adventure) also in French, both directed by Hitch.
Re-watching Lifeboat after many years I was surprised how it was not just a good Hitchcock, it was a great one. The first of the master's 'Limited location' films, classics that followed in this style were Rope, Dial 'M' For Murder and Rear Window. The first scene shows a ship sinking, and from thereafter all the action takes place within the Lifeboat. What makes this film is the rattling good dialogue between the characters, all of whom are well rounded. Tallulah Bankhead provides comedic interludes by steadily losing everything she values over the side of the lifeboat as the film progresses.
One by one survivors of the wreck appear out of the water and clamber in - the final survivor however is from the German U-boat that sunk the ship before being sunk itself. This survivor, Willi brings uneasiness, with some of the survivors wanting to throw him overboard, but he states - in German to Bankhead who acts as translator - that he is a mere crew member. Willi provides some guidance on the course direction for Bermuda as the boat's compass has been smashed and gains an uneasy trust from the other survivors when called to perform an emergency leg amputation. That trust however is proved to be misplaced as he has a concealed compass and is heading towards German shipping.
There is fine acting on show, particularly as the scenario allows the cast to reveal back story, giving depth to the characters. Of particular note is Gus, played by William Bendix who reveals his love of dancing with his girl Rosie, only to be faced with that amputation due to gangrene. Willi too shows his true colours after he is revealed as the U-boat captain and capable of speaking fine English, remaining strong whilst others around him change from hope to despair as rations of water and food become depleted thanks to sea biscuits and a flask concealed in his jacket. When a dehydrated and hallucinating Gus catches Willi taking a drink whilst the rest of the complement are asleep Willi encourages Gus in his delirious state to jump overboard and drown - truly a wartime parable of "The master race's" attitude towards the disabled and feeble. There's a lovely balance of characters; by social class, nationality, religion and race. Whilst there was some controversy over the role played by Canada Lee at the time, he is shown to be religious, brave and compassionate and a valued member of the crew with a loving family waiting for him at home.
Towards the end the film shows Willi getting his come-uppance for his horrific betrayal, with the survivors pushed beyond limits taking group action they could only be driven to in wartime. A marvellous film that in spite of it's limited setting rings the changes significantly, with this viewer experiencing a wide range of emotions in a story that draws you in.