In the Atlantic during WWII, a ship and a German U-boat are involved in a battle and both are sunk. The survivors from the ship gather in one of the boats. They are from a variety of backgrounds: an international journalist, a rich businessman, the radio operator, a nurse, a steward, a sailor and an engineer with communist tendencies. Trouble starts when they pull a man out of the water who turns out to be from the U-boat. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Screen Director's Playhouse" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on November 16, 1950 with Tallulah Bankhead reprising her film role. See more »
In the beginning of the film, a German U-boat crew member is floating in the water. He is wearing a life jacket with the words "Deutsches Reich U 78" printed on it. If they decided to print words on the jacket, Kriegsmarine" would be more appropriate. Also the U-78 was used as a trainer and never saw combat. See more »
[climbs into boat]
Lady, you certainly don't look like somebody that's just been shipwrecked.
Man, I certainly feel like it.
See more »
Lifeboat, the Hitchcock classic, defines the essence of the American super will in 1944. It pits the American melting pot irrationality and eccentricities against the single-minded rational Teutonic mind. Unlike the typical propaganda movies of its time, Lifeboat does not march without a reverse gear across the screen like John Wayne's boots. Lifeboat is circumspect, and asks profound questions about war, and values, and vulnerability. It second guesses itself. It wonders.
A freighter is sunk by a German U-boat and the cast assembles in a solitary lifeboat on a cold gray Atlantic Ocean for a two hour emotional roller-coaster. 60 years ago, before there were true female heavyweight actresses like Brittany Spears or Meg Ryan, there was Tallulah Bankhead, a thinking man's dame with an Alabama drawl and no underwear. Apparently she wanted to keep the attention of the camera crew during filming; mission accomplished. Playing the lead role of Constance Porter, Tallulah was in her element as the clawed feisty sharp talking journalist ripping apart at will anyone that crossed her path especially alpha male want a be, John Kovac, played by John Hodiak. Ruggedly ugly, Hodiak, played an impulsive hotheaded boiler room brute that acted first and used thought only as a last resort. His persona was that of a man raised on the wrong side of the tracks, vigilant like a stray dog with the hair up on its back most of the time.
Then there was Willy. Willy, played magnificently by Walter Slezak, was a rescued German U-boat sailor, ultimately unmasked as the Captain of the U-boat that sunk the freighter. Willy spoke perfect English. He knew the sea, navigation and knew how to survive. He was superior in intellect, physical strength, and cunning. Not only was he capable of saving Gus Smith's life by a surgical amputation of his leg, he also pushed Gus overboard when it was clear that Gus, played by William Bendix was dying and essentially wasting the survival resources of the others in the boat.
Other characters providing color included a young Hume Cronyn, hard to believe he was ever young, and famous cigar chewing character actor grouch, Charles Rittenhouse who played Henry Hull, ironically, a shipping tycoon. Other players had various levels of incompetence and mental instability.
What does this movie say? It says that Americans can only stand so much rational logic before they explode, even if the rational logic initially saves their lives. It frames the basis of ethical reasoning. For example who do you give a heart transplant to, a scientist or a street person who waltzes into the door two seconds before the scientist? Willy would give the heart to the scientist because he weighs the society above the individual, and the rest of the boat would give it to the street person, not because it is rational but because they base ethics on human equality, and seek to find some measure of 'fairness' as the basis of ethical decision making. While American society may tout the virtues of this kind of sentiment, they are not really that comfortable with it. Watching a street person with a newly transplanted heart swill down a bottle of Thunderbird wine is not particularly gratifying when at the same time the Nobel Laureate is being laid to rest, perhaps just short of a discovery that could have saved millions of lives. And this is precisely what the movie does in the end. It leaves us uncertain about our own brutality in the name of our version of ethical fairness. It also makes us question our own sense of reason and logic. What possible virtue is there in a society that shuns reasoning? This is the point that Hitchcock makes so cleverly. He leaves us with a sense of fear, from both a tough intelligent rational enemy, but also from a wild brutish killing wrought out of self-fear and ending with an uncomfortable lynch mob sense of justice. This was not a killing of self-defense; it was a killing of berserk passion and loss of control. These were after all, not soldiers, but they were us, suffering from a global war with no end in sight. Frustrated by a relentless predatory machine-like enemy, that could torpedo unarmed freighters, yet smile and tell jokes while rowing toward an enemy rescue ship.
Lifeboat is a movie of huge depth. If the brain aspects of the movie don't appeal to you, you may want to see the movie just to get a glimpse of Tallulah so you could actually see what a real woman once looked like before they became extinct in the sea of 18 year old tattooed tongue-pierced pop culture nothings and crack smoking 'super-models' that masquerade these days as 'American womanhood'. And you wonder why men don't want to marry anymore.
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