Monday, October 09, 2017
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and screenplay by Jo Swerling from a story by John Steinbeck, Lifeboat is the story of a group of passengers stranded on a lifeboat after a passenger vessel had been struck down during World War II. It’s a film that is set entirely in the sea where a group of people cope with trying to survive as well as wonder if help will arrive. Starring Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, and Canada Lee. Lifeboat is a riveting and intense film from Alfred Hitchcock.
Set in World War II in the Atlantic Ocean, the film revolve around eight different passengers who are stuck on a lifeboat trying to survive as they deal with limited resources, injuries, hunger, thirst, and each other. It’s a film that takes place entirely on a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where a mixture of British and American passengers and crew are on this lifeboat. Jo Swerling’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the tension among the people on this lifeboat but also the many differences of these people who come from different backgrounds. At the same time, there would be passengers who are either injured, traumatized, or just secretive like this German man named Willi (Walter Slezak) who is a German U-boat crew member many of other survivors are suspicious about. Even as the drama is heightened early on when a survivor is too distraught over the loss of her baby as it adds a lot of tension to the eight survivors trapped in this small lifeboat.
Alfred Hitchcock’s direction is definitely engaging for the fact that is set entirely on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea though it’s really shot inside a soundstage with lots of water. While Hitchcock would use some wide shots to capture the scope of being in the middle of the sea. He would emphasize more on medium shots and close-ups to play into the danger of these eight people on this small lifeboat as they have to adjust to their situation. There are bits of humor in the film as well as lighthearted moments where everyone gets to know each other but there is still that air of tension and suspense that looms throughout. Especially as there are moments that are intense including a scene where a man named Gus Smith (William Bendix) has an injured leg that’s become infected forcing Willi to be the one to cut though nothing is shown. By the time the film would reach its climax as they endure a storm, lack of food, and lack of drinking water, the drama and suspense is at its peak where no one can be trusted as well as what happens if help will never arrive. Overall, Hitchcock crafts a gripping and rapturous film about a group people stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Cinematographer Glen MacWilliams, with additional work from Arthur C. Miller, does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography in the way it captures everything that the exteriors would look in day and night in the middle of the sea. Editor Dorothy Spencer does excellent work with the editing as it help play into the suspense with its usage of rhythmic cuts as well as in capturing the close-up of objects crucial to the film. Art directors James Basvesi and Maurice Ransford, with set decorator Thomas Little, do amazing work with the look of the exteriors of the way everything looks on the outside as well as the size and shape of the lifeboat which is a character itself.
Costume designer Rene Hubert does nice work with the costumes from some of the stylish clothes of the women to the casual look of the men. The sound work of Bernard Freericks and Roger Heman Sr. is superb for some of the sound effects that is created for the sea as well as other bits that is happening on the boat. The film’s music by Hugo W. Friedhofer is fantastic for its usage of orchestral music to play into some of the drama without overdoing the arrangements as well as creating pieces for the suspense.
The film’s marvelous cast include a couple of notable small roles from William Yetter Jr. as a German sailor and Heather Angel as a woman named Mrs. Higley who was carrying a baby upon her rescue in which she would lose her mind. Canada Lee is terrific as the steward Joe Spencer as an African-American man who can do a lot while try not to be involved with any kind of serious discussions while Hume Cronyn is superb as the radioman Stanley “Sparks” Garrett as a surviving crew member who tries to handle things on the ship as he falls for Army nurse Alice. Mary Anderson is wonderful as Alice MacKenzie as this U.S. Army nurse that tries to help the injured Gus as well as cope with surviving and being on the ship. Henry Hull is fantastic as the wealthy industrialist Charles J. “Ritt” Rittenhouse who organizes everything that is salvaged as well as try to make sense of everything while being at odds with some of the passengers who resents his wealth.
John Hodiak is excellent as John Kovac as an engine crewman who isn’t fond of having Willi on board as he dislikes German while takes a liking towards the columnist Connie Porter. William Bendix is brilliant as Gus Smith who works on the ship as a man that deals with a serious injury in his leg that becomes infected as he copes with thirst and returning to his old life. Walter Sleazak is amazing as Willi as a German U-boat crew member who doesn’t speak any English prompting Connie to translate for him as he observes everything around him while keeping a few secrets of his own as it’s a very cool and low-key performance. Finally, there’s Tallulah Bankhead in an incredible performance as the revered columnist Connie Porter as a woman who is the first on the lifeboat as she struggles with losing some things as well as dealing with the chaos on the boat as she provides a sense of wit and humility to a woman who deals with losing everything but also gain some perspective of what is happening on the boat.
Lifeboat is a tremendous film from Alfred Hitchcock. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a simple premise, and a minimalist setting, the film is definitely one of Hitchcock’s finest films in terms of its suspense and study of characters in a precarious situation. In the end, Lifeboat is a spectacular film from Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock Films: (Number 13) - (The Pleasure Garden) - (The Blackguard) - (The Mountain Eagle) - (The Lodger) - (A Story of the London Fog) - (The Ring) - (Downhill) - (The Farmer’s Wife) - (Easy Virtue) - (Champagne) - (The Manxman) - (Blackmail) - (Juno and the Paycock) - (Murder!) - (The Skin Game) - (Mary) - (Lord Camber’s Ladies) - (Rich and Strange) - (Number Seventeen) - (Waltzes from Vienna) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)) - The 39 Steps - (Secret Agent) - (Sabotage) - (Young and Innocent) – The Lady Vanishes - (Jamaica Inn) – (Rebecca) – (Foreign Correspondent) – (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) – Suspicion - (Saboteur) – (Shadow of a Doubt) – Bon Voyage - (Spellbound) – (Notorious) – (The Paradine Cage) – Rope – (Under Capricorn) – (Stage Fright) – Strangers on a Train - I Confess - Dial M for Murder - Rear Window – To Catch a Thief - (The Trouble with Harry) – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film) – (The Wrong Man) – Vertigo - North by Northwest - Psycho - The Birds - Marnie - (Torn Curtain) – (Topaz) – (Frenzy) – (Family Plot)
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