When most people think of Alfred Hitchcock's most influential films, "Psycho" and "Rear Window" and even "The Man Who Knew Too Much" come to mind. In truth, Hitchcock's most influential film, in terms of imitation, came with the 1944 release, "Lifeboat". It invented the claustrophobic film style that would be mimicked in thrillers and horror films for years to come. Basically, you have nine individuals trapped on a boat for the duration of the film. And, in 1944, there was only one director who could make a premise like that work, and Hitchcock was his name. Written by Jo Swerling from a short story by John Steinbeck, "Lifeboat" is a constantly overlooked Hitchcock master work.
During World War II, in the Atlantic Ocean, a ship and a German U-Boat are involved in a heated battle, where both find themselves sunk. A group of survivors climb aboard a lifeboat and set out across the sea for help. The people trapped on the boat represent just about every faction of American life from 1944, and everything is going according to plan until they rescue a man who turns out to be a German soldier from the sunken U-Boat. From that point on, paranoia ensues as the survivors try to figure out what to do with a man who may or may not have been the one to take their ship down. The film explores another side of human nature -- revenge and compassion. The film reminds me very much of "The Ox-Bow Incident" in that it showcases man's ability to forgive, and to exact revenge, even if the information they have is not sufficient to warrant such an action.
Without this film, motion pictures like "Das Boot" would not even be a memory -- they wouldn't exist. "Lifeboat" showed what a film could do with minimal sets and almost zero production value. It was a milestone for film in that it progressed film as an art form and not just something that has to dazzle with flash and glamor. There was nothing glamorous about this film, other than Tallulah Bankhead's furs. Hume Cronyn shines in one of his best performances as Stanley Garrett, and Tallulah Bankhead also dazzles as Connie Porter. The entire cast does wonders with the materials, and Hitchcock is always so great about draining amazing performances from actors who were typically confined to the A-list Hollywood standards of acting. Sparkle over substance.
Many people have trouble with the ending, with the German soldier wanting to shoot the people who saved him. Many people have labeled this film a propaganda film. Ridiculous. What the ending does is just solidify both the cultural and the philosophical differences between the United States and Nazi Germany during World War II. What it does is show that human nature is contingent on cause and on belief, not morality and compassion. The film also features the best Alfred Hitchcock cameo, with a newspaper advertisement for weight loss and Hitchcock appearing in both the before and after picture. Genius. "Lifeboat" is an amazing film and one of the best the great Mr. Hitchcock has ever given us. It is continually forgotten, but I suggest you do not. 10/10.
- added 06/08/2008, 07:07 AM
Great acting, great story, great overall movie,
but that ending was just awful. I wouldn't go so
far as to call this a propaganda film (in fact,
there was much less than I expected given the
subject matter and the release date), but that
ending stuck out like a sore thumb. 8/10.