Lifeboat

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Kenneth Macgowan
Written by Novella:John Steinbeck
Screenplay: Jo Swerling
Uncredited: Ben Hecht
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead
William Bendix
Walter Slezak
Mary Anderson
John Hodiak
Henry Hull
Heather Angel
Hume Cronyn
Canada Lee
Music by Hugo W. Friedhofer
Cinematography Glen MacWilliams
Editing by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date January 11, 1944
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Lifeboat is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most interesting works. It could easily be dismissed as being anti-Nazi propaganda, but in my mind this is more than just an anti-German film. It was released during World War II and there are some scenes where Walter Slezak’s German U-Boat captain Willi comes across sympathetically, but by the film’s conclusion we are in no doubt that he is nothing but a heartless barbaric monster. Apparently Hitchcock had conflicting views on Germans during the war, as he loved German expressionist cinema, which is where he learnt his trade, but he hated the Nazis and their atrocities. Also Hitch’s Britain was at war with the Nazis, struggling to survive the German onslaught.

The film really has nothing to do with the war, except on the surface, and is best viewed as a character study of what lengths people will go to when put into a life or death situation. That Willi is such a villain is not really the point of the film, as we see that when the tables are turned, that good people who are not indoctrinated in Nazi fanaticism have the potential to become monsters too, if that is the only way for them to survive. When faced with death, or at the very best internment in a Nazi concentration camp until the end of the war, we see the characters emotions’ laid bare and how their actions change, depending on the hopelessness or otherwise of the situation until in the end, they commit an act of murder just the same as the ‘evil’ Nazi.

The film at times feels very claustrophobic, being as it is set for its entirety on a lifeboat. There are a few good performances from Tallulah Bankhead and especially Canada Lee as the only real voice of reason. Hitchcock also has a very memorable cameo, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for best director for this film.

* Purchase the Region 1 (North American) version of Lifeboat from Amazon *

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