on 10 July 2012
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!).
on 5 May 2013
Lifeboat by the master Alfred Hitchcock,
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 .
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
on 4 April 2006
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.
on 25 April 2012
Received my copy of the steelbook Lifeboat today. Amazon now send them in proper steelbook packaging to protect them. They even have a special box designed for that purpose. Picture, sound and packaging top notch. Euruka really are becoming the UK Criterion. You'll not be disappointed .
Please let them do Jurassic Park at some stage...
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!
on 5 January 2013
This often overlooked Hitchcock film about the survivors from a torpedoed ship in WW2 who end up sharing their lifeboat with a crew member from the U-boat that sank them is a very tight little thriller. No real big "names" apart from Ms Bankhead which makes the characters even better as you are not thinking of where you have seen them before. You can feel the tension realIy building up between then as they are confined to this small boat in the middle of the ocean and running out of food and water. I bought it purely for the dvd version in this double disc, dual format package and it was well worth it. The picture quality and sound are really clear
on 28 October 2005
While Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 film Lifeboat is not my favorite of his film, it certainly has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a bejeweled and glamorous Tallulah Bankhead playing a feisty war reporter, stranded on a life boat with a mismatched group of survivors.
Lifeboat was an experimental film for Hitchcock; he reportedly wanted to make "order out of all the chaos of movie making," to see if he could really make a compelling movie with the action taking place in one location and the drama developed without recourse to flashbacks or cutaways. The end result is a film that is done cleverly and stylishly.
Lifeboat is pretty much an exercise in allied propaganda with entire picture taking place in a small boat, as the survivors of a torpedoed luxury liner find themselves cast adrift with the captain of the U-boat that sank them.
Lifeboat begins as we see the funnel of a ship slinking and various objects floating away: a copy of the New Yorker, playing cards, wooden spoons, a chessboard, and finally a corpse. With this sobering sight, we cut to the film's glamorous Tallulah Bankhead sitting alone in a lifeboat. Her Constance Porter is a journalist, and a bit of a rough diamond; as she lights up one of her cigarettes, we get the impression that she seems remarkably unfazed by what has just happened.
She whips out a camera to film the survivors as they climb into the boat. This enrages Kovac (John Hodiak), the resident socialist, and he throws her camera overboard. Soon other survivors are climbing aboard: There's low-class Brit Stanley (Hume Cronyn), natty capitalist C. D. Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), dopey Gus (William Bendix), reformed pickpocket Joe (Canada Lee), pretty nurse Miss MacKenzie (Mary Anderson), Mrs. Higgins (Heather Angel), a mad woman with a dead baby, and Willy (Walter Slezak), a corpulent Nazi.
The fact that they have a German on board infuriates Kovac, who thinks they should toss him overboard. But the others, especially Connie feels that he should be allowed to stay, citing the laws of democracy. Connie also speaks German and discovers that the man was Captain of the U-Boat and that he may be able to help them survive.
The group faces many obstacles, in their efforts to stay alive, battling the stormy elements, lack of food and fresh water, the scorn and suspicion for each other that society has ingrained into them, and, chiefly, their collective mistrust for a Nazi U-boat sailor, whom, despite his villainous credentials, they must invest their faith.
When Gus' leg becomes gangrenous, the group must decide whether it should be amputated, but it is soon discovered that only the Nazi has the necessary surgical skills. Meanwhile, a gentle romance simmers between Alice and Stanley. George, who has a penchant for the Gospels, stands as the group's moral pillar; he is apolitical and totally good-hearted.
But the center of the film, and by far the best reason to see it is Tallulah, which Hitchcock eventually brings into focus as the film's emblem. We get to like her character more as she is stripped of her material accoutrements as the film goes on.
At first we are unsympathetic to Connie but, we soon change our minds, as she has sympathy for the nurse's troubles, she kisses Gus before his leg is cut off - a lusty, open-mouthed Tallulah kiss - kisses Kovac when they think they're going to die, and gives a definitive answer to Joe's prayer: "How about giving Him a hand?" she asks.
The rest of the cast is uniformly good and the movie boasts the filmmaker's trademark technical polish: His command over editing, framing, and optical effects are spot on, and his ability to create a convincing storm is startling, considering the limitations of the period in which the film was made.
Hitchcock intended Lifeboat to be a microcosm of the Allied war effort, and to a certain extent it is. But the film also shows ordinary people under pressure; it never softens their edges and is able to boldly trace their war-weary dynamic. Lifeboat is all about the breaking down of the social veneers, that of class, education, and nationality, and it charts a group of people's descent into the vengeful darkness where none of them imagined they could ever go. Mike Leonard October 05.
on 28 December 2008
At the beginning we see a sinking ship and debris floating in the water before the camera settles on the lifeboat where the immaculate Connie (Tallulah Bankhead) is alone. The lifeboat soon fills up with characters, including Willy (Walter Slezak) the German captain of the submarine responsible for the sinking of the ship. The film follows the quest to safety in Bermuda. However, only Willy knows the way.....
The story provides suspense as we watch Willy gradually take over control of the lifeboat. He is assured and possesses all the necessary skills that are called upon including surgery, seamanship, strength and a peculiar navigational awareness.... Do we, the audience, trust him just as the other members in the lifeboat have to? He seems nice enough.
The cast are good with Tallulah Bankhead and Walter Slezak winning the acting honours. Hume Cronym as "Sparks" has a peculiar voice and John Hodiak as "Kovac" has an unfortunate array of teeth in his mouth - he reminded me of 'Bingo' from the "Banana Splits" whenever he smiled. It's quite off-putting.
It's an entertaining film, if a little long, but it's worth seeing again. I won't go into the finer details of German Expressionism versus Soviet Expressive Realism which Hitchcock manages to combine, but I will say that he makes his usual appearance.