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Intelligent and engrossing picture about some shipwrecked survivors of a torpedoing
ma-cortes2 May 2015
Lifeboat chronicles the trip of eight passengers after being sunk the ship they were traveling . As during WWII , several survivors of a torpedoed ship find themselves in the same boat with one of the men who sunk it . They adrift on a lifeboat when they take on a German aboard .

This is a very good film , a highly theatrical experiment similarly to ¨The rope¨ ; dealing with several survivors in lonely lifeboat and it is based in part on a real shipwrecked . However , at film premiere was dumbly panned as an artistic flop by most critics , dismissed for a few embarrassing failures and flaws ; but is , nonetheless , today very well deemed . This sea-going ¨Grand Hotel¨ was filmed in a few takes to provide a seamless of movement but it remains nowadays what it was them a perfect film about shipwrecked survivors . Interesting screenplay , though partially claustrophobic , by Jo Swerling who adapted John Steinbeck's original story . The film was shot entirely on a restricted set in which the boat was secured in a large studio tank . Alfred Hitchcock , always striving for realism , insisted that the boat never remain stationary and that there always be an added touch of ocean mist and fog compounded of oil forced through dry ice . Remarkable performances from a great cast such as tunnel-voiced Tallulah Bankhead as spoiled reporter Constance 'Connie' Porter , the veteran Henry Hull , the beautiful Mary Anderson , a tough John Hodiak , Canada Lee who was allowed to write his own lines , the character actor Hume Cronyn , William Bendix who joined the cast a few days into shooting when the original actor as Gus -Murray Alper- fell sick and special mention for Walter Slezak as astute Nazi in growing suspicion of the other survivors about him . The cast suffered harsh conditions during the hard shooting : actors were soaked with water and oil . Seasickness hit the entire cast at various times during production , and many of them caught pneumonia after constant exposure to cold water which led to two cases of pneumonia for Tallulah Bankhead , an illness for actress Mary Anderson and two cracked ribs for actor Hume Cronyn who almost drowned in a storm scene when he got caught under a large metal water-activator according to his autobiography . Production was temporarily halted twice to allow for recovery of the cast . And look for Hitchcock's photography trademark on a newspaper that the survivors are reading .

Aside from the opening and closing scene , there is no score in this film , the only music is the flute . Evocative and atmospheric cinematography by Glen MacWilliams , though Arthur C. Miller was the initial director of photography but he was replaced after the first two weeks of filming, when Miller became ill . The motion picture was compellingly directed by the great maestro of suspense , Alfred Hitchcock ; only Hitch would face off the challenge of such a flick . Although the film did good business and succeed in New York as well as other big cities , it failed to attract audiences in smaller theatres and rural areas . As a result, it was a rare Alfred Hitchcock film that actually lost money at the box office . Remade as a Sci-Fi movie titled ¨Lifepod¨ (1981) by Bruce Bryant with Joe Penny , Kristine DeBell , Neil Ross , Carl Lumbly and ¨Lifepod¨ (1993) by Ron Silver with Robert Loggia , Jessica Tuck , Stan Shaw , Adam Storke , Kelli Williams and CCH Pounder .
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The film's propaganda message was widely misunderstood at the time
Nazi_Fighter_David29 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
More than one director has realized that the perfect plausible way of confining your characters to provide suspense is to put them in a boat – a mini-world of people, unable to get away from each other and isolated in the vast impersonal ocean with perils of its own...

The film is set in World War II… An Allied ship was sunk by a German U-boat and a mixed bunch of survivors got away in the lifeboat… The enemy submarine was also sunk by the explosion and its Nazi commander joined the survivors in their lifeboat…

At first they were prepared to throw him overboard – but it was his skill which saved their little craft and gradually, while the allies were torn by dissension, selfishness, divided aims and views, his single-minded strength of purpose and his disciplined abilities took command… Unknown to the others, he was stealing their rations to keep up his strength, and directing them towards a rendez-vous with a German supply ship…

Tallulah Bankhead, incidentally, dominated the acting of the whole fine cast except possibly Walter Slezak, as the Nazi… As the woman journalist, keeping close to her material possessions, and only emotionally more friendly, she gave a performance with the power and the pain of a thirty feet salt wave…

It is ironic that the film's propaganda message, which I believe weakened and over-simplified it, was widely misunderstood at the time… Hitchcock intended to show at that stage of the war that the democracies should settle their differences and unite forces against the common enemy, who was disciplined, strong, and knew just where he was going… Instead, a lot of people attacked the film for showing the strongest character as the Nazi!

"Lifeboat" is an interesting thriller from the mounting tensions of the interplay of conflicting characters, trapped and isolated in the planks of their little boat
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Quite Interesting
Snow Leopard12 August 2002
One of the things that made Hitchcock great was his willingness to experiment, rather than just sticking with a proven formula all of the time. While not all of his experimental movies measure up to his greatest achievements, they're always worth watching, and "Lifeboat" is much more than just watchable. It's a tense drama that combines psychology and action in an efficient and memorable style.

This is quite an interesting movie in several respects, and not least for the ways that Hitchcock squeezes so much out of one single setting. Into the simple "Lifeboat" setting, he puts lots of details that are both interesting and appropriate. The characters are interesting and believable, and most of all, the story is full of both suspense and substance. As an extra bonus, there is one of Hitchcock's most creative cameo appearances.

Aside from the technical features, it is also noteworthy to see the ways that the characters are portrayed, with the contrasts among them perhaps a bit stylized at times, but done so as to make some important points. The cast does a good job in making each of the characters come to life, and all of them get a chance to have some good moments. It all fits together to make an unusual movie that is well worth watching.
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U Boat
jotix10010 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
John Steinbeck's story was cleverly adapted by Jo Swerling, although it appears Ben Hecht was also a collaborator in the screen play. Without a doubt, Alfred Hitchcock scored another hit with "Lifeboat". For being done in one set, the boat, the movie never feels claustrophobic. The camera work is extremely effective because it conveys the hard voyage these survivors undertook after their Trans Atlantic ship was attacked by a German U boat.

The mood in the boat is driven by a sense of survival. The motley crew that gets on board after the shipwreck presents an assortment of people so different, but joined together by their predicament. It would have been highly impossible if these lives ever met, had it not been for the accident.

The characters are well defined. We see a glamorous reporter who manages to be in the boat by herself right after the wreck. The earthy Constance finds more from this experience than with her own work. Kovac, is the rough sailor who takes command. Gus, the injured sailor can't do much more but rely on happy moments in order to keep sane after his terrible predicament. Willy, the devious German, who the group rescues, has an agenda, but the others are too involved in their own problems to see right through this man. Sparks and Alice finally find peace and love with one another. The rich man, Rittenhouse realizes his money is not worth anything if they are not rescued soon.

Hitchcock's direction is what made "Lifeboat" the fine movie, and the classic it became. In a way, the ending is completely anti-climatic as the survivors realize Willy, the captain has steered them into a trap, but at the same time, after they watch the other German ship destroyed by an Allied vessel, they rescue a sailor, who threatens them, but is easily overpowered. We never see them saved, but we know they will be taken care by the approaching ship.

Tallulah Bankhead is excellent as Constance. In fact, her performance is perhaps exaggerated in order to convey the sophistication of the character. Little by little she is reduced to nothing as she loses all her material possessions, so dear to her and accepts the reality of the situation. John Hodiak, as Kovac, offers a mysterious side, as well as commanding power. William Bendix as Gus, offers a man who keeps thinking about happier times with his girlfriend.

Walter Slezak's performance is also equally satisfying. We know from the beginning he is hiding things from the people in the boat, but at the same time, he offers their only salvation. Hume Cronyn, an actor that worked with Hitchcock in a few movies, is good as Sparks. Mary Anderson is the sweet Alice who acts as a balancing agent. Henry Hull and Canada Lee, round out the magnificent cast of the film.

This is a Hitchcock film that deserves to be seen more often, for it offers tremendous rewards to its viewers.
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One of Hitchcock's best that rarely gets a mention. Don't overlook this one!
Infofreak26 March 2003
'Lifeboat' must be extremely high on the list of THE most underrated Alfred Hitchcock movies! I very rarely hear anyone talk about this little gem, which is a damn shame as it is as good as many of Hitch's better known films. The plot is simple but the film makes the most of it with inventive direction, a strong script, and an interesting ensemble cast, most of whom are very good. I believe that Tallulah Bankhead irritates many people but I thought she was effective enough and well cast. I must say I was much more interested in Walter Slezak who played the Nazi and John Hodiak the tattooed tough guy. Both were excellent performances that really added to my enjoyment of the movie. Anybody who likes Hitchcock who hasn't seen 'Lifeboat' is in for a treat. Don't overlook this one. It's dated in some ways sure, but still much more entertaining than 90% of today's so-called thrillers. I strongly recommend it.
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Your Rescuer Or Your Captor
bkoganbing1 June 2007
When David O. Selznick got some loan out money from Darryl Zanuck for Alfred Hitchcock's services for two films (the second was never made), I'm sure Zanuck must have just loved Hitchcock when he told him that he wanted to make a film with just one set. Talk about cost cutting, anyway after a few failed scripts, Zanuck got American premier novelist John Steinbeck to write an original screenplay and since it was timely patriotic, Hitchcock did it.

So for Hitchcock asking for a one set film, the movie going public got Lifeboat. A disparate group of passengers and crew are torpedoed in the mid-Atlantic and wind up together in a lifeboat. After their ship went down however, another ship in the convoy rammed in the U-Boat that sank them. The last one picked up on board is a German.

The crew members include John Hodiak, William Bendix, Hume Cronyn and Canada Lee. Passengers are Mary Anderson, Heather Angel and a dead baby she clings to, and millionaire Henry Hull. And of course playing a Dorothy Thompson like correspondent is the great Tallulah Bankhead.

Lifeboat is a wonderful film not just for the fact that Alfred Hitchcock succeeded in making a one set film that you are never conscious of while watching. But it's the only opportunity to see Tallulah at the height of her fame. She made a bunch of Hollywood features at the beginning of the sound era, but they flopped for the most part. So she went back to Broadway which loved her best and her season box seat at the Polo Grounds where she was the New York Giants most devoted fan. Lifeboat should have rejuvenated a movie career, but she apparently didn't care. Lifeboat even on its own is her best work on film, let alone in comparison to other films.

The villain of Lifeboat is our German, Walter Slezak. He's a devious and cunning individual, he seems stronger and more fit than the other Lifeboat survivors and because of that and in spite of the fact he's hated, he gradually assumes charge. There's a reason for his actions and his fitness and when it's discovered, grave consequences erupt.

Canada Lee, distinguished black actor from the stage, gets a role here that's far from Willie Best or Step N' Fetchit. My favorite scene in Lifeboat is when Hodiak who represents the left on the boat is trying to rouse the rest to just toss Walter Slezak to the sharks when he first arrives, asks Lee for his opinion as he's a member of the party. Lee replies simply he didn't realize he had any vote or say in the matter, a very trenchant observation about how blacks were disenfranchised in a quarter of the USA, some twenty years before the Voting Rights Act.

The Lifeboat survivors are a cross section of the American people and this World War II allegory in microcosm is to show just why these Nazis are as evil as they are and why we have to resist. Even today more than sixty years after it was first made, Lifeboat is still a great cinematic achievement from Alfred Hitchcock.

And it was made so cheaply which Darryl Zanuck ecstatic.
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A lesser-known Hitchcock masterclass!
The_Void30 January 2006
Hitchcock made a lot of great films, many of which have been met with the acclaim that they rightly deserve. Lifeboat deserves a lot of acclaim, yet its lesser-known status doesn't allow justice in that respect. This film represents one of Hitchcock's major successes in scene setting and drawing the audience into the story. The way that Hitchcock uses his camera aboard the lifeboat is amazing, as by keeping the action on the claustrophobic craft, the great director ensures that his audience is always plugged into the plight of his characters; which helps the film no end when it comes to the story, as we know their situation at all times. In fact, it's amazing just how well Hitchcock does do this; while they were starving, I was too! The plot is simple, yet a great base for a wartime thriller. We follow the surviving members of a crew from a ship that was bombed by a German U-Boat. They're crammed onto a small lifeboat, but there's one survivor that isn't quite welcome. His name is Willy, and he's a survivor of the U-Boat that sank the ill-fated ship.

Given the time when this was made (towards the end of World War 2), it's hardly surprising that it's filled with propaganda. Usually, this annoys me; but here it's done really well, and the propaganda is actually worked into the story instead of just being there to rally the allied population at the time. Hitchcock turns this into a twist, and the way that he parodies the war on the whole on just a small lifeboat in the middle of the big ocean is great. The entire film takes place on just one single set. The action never leaves the lifeboat (aside from to pan around the surrounding area), but Hitchcock uses this to his advantage. The lack of locations really enforces the crew's isolation. The acting is melodramatic in typical forties fashion; but all of the cast members do well in their roles. Tallulah Bankhead takes the lead role and really is the linchpin of the movie. She is joined by the likes of William Bendix, Walter Slezak and John Hodiak, who give great turns despite not being A-class actors. Overall, this is a Hitchcock film that I would say is just as important to see as the likes of Rear Window and Strangers on a Train. This is Hitchcock at his best, and the film is a great ninety-five minutes to boot. Don't miss this one!
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Underrated Gem
Michael_Elliott9 March 2016
Lifeboat (1944)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Alfred Hitchcock lined up a terrific cast to tell the story of a group of survivors who find themselves together on a lifeboat without much hope for survival. The American and British people end up saving a German man who was on the sub that struck their boat and must decide if he's worth trusting or not.

I've never really understood why LIFEBOAT never gets mentioned when critics or fans discuss the work of Hitchcock. It's certainly not a masterpiece like PSYCHO, VERTIGO or NORTH BY NORTHWEST but it's certainly a highly entertaining and very good movie that deserves to get more praise than it does. For some strange reason the movie is rarely mentioned whenever people discuss the famed director and that's really too bad because it shows what the director was able to do with just one set.

I really liked the fact that the movie starts off with the boat already sunk and we immediately start on the lifeboat. A lot of times movies like this will take place on a ship where we get to know the characters then the disaster will strike and we will then see them try to survive. Writer John Steinbeck did a marvelous job at starting the acting in the lifeboat and this is where we get to know the cast as the characters get to know one another.

The screenplay is quite simple as it tells a strong story and obvious there are messages scattered throughout, although we're never beaten over the head with that message. Hitchcock does a very good job at keeping the stakes extremely high and he manages to build up tension during a lot of small scenes that of course add up to something big. It certainly doesn't hurt that we've got a terrific cast of actors to bring these roles to life. Walter Slezak is wonderful as the German man plus we get John Hodiak, a terrific William Bendix, HUme Cronyn, Mary Anderson and Henry Hull. Canada Lee also deserves a lot of credit as the black man on the boat. One of the few instances where a black man was shown respect in a Hollywood film from this era.

LIFEBOAT is a nice little drama that gets better with each new viewing. Again, I'm really not sure why more people don't talk about the film but it's certainly worth rediscovering to those who haven't seen it.
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another great experiment....
tripper023 May 2002
"Lifeboat" is an excellent film. It is a great achievement by Alfred Hitchcock that he could create a film set on only a lifeboat interesting for its duration. Hitchcock had a knack for experimental films, such as "Rope", which seems to be one continuous shot, and "Rear Window", which features one small apartment and a man in a wheel chair. With so little, he is always able to do so much.

In "Lifeboat", we start out with the sinking of a ship and people gathering on the lifeboat. It's really that simple. This is a character driven film. There are no lush chase sequences, there are no gunfights, there is no mystery. Nope, its all about how this collection of characters interact with each other. Its a study of how difference of opinion can creat tensions, and how people can deal with those tensions. Its really fascinating to watch, and when its all said and done, you get the impression that it wasn't just an experiment, but that it had something to say, and it did.

The only slight flaw in the film is that we don't really get a sense of how long(exactly)they've been at sea. I "Cast Away" we saw Tom Hanks lost a considerable amount of weight and grow a considerable amount of hair. Well, that is the one thing you don't see with this movie. Its really a minor quibble anyway because it doesn't diminish the entertainment value at all.

Hitchcock was the master of suspense, but he was never afraid to try other things, from screwball comedy(Mr. and Mrs.Smith) to psychological thrillers(Vertigo). This film is definitely one of his best and most interesting experiments. 9 out of 10.
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"That isn't funny, it's logical"
Steffi_P8 November 2010
During the years of World War Two, Hollywood production followed the necessities of morale and propaganda, but tended towards movies that were minimalist and stripped down. Due to the conflict available resources were even lower than the cash-strapped days of the depression, and crews were smaller as many studio employees joined the armed forces. As far as the quality of the pictures produced is concerned, it wasn't always a bad thing. With fewer elements, filmmakers were encouraged towards inventiveness, as well as a more personal focus.

In the case of Lifeboat, it lead to the first in a series of pictures directed by Alfred Hitchcock made entirely in one confined set. Four years later he would make one called Rope, which gave the illusion of being shot in one continuous take. As such there was a constant feel of the artificiality of the process as the director's self-imposed limitations forced him to change angle and focus by moving the camera around. Lifeboat is different, not because Hitch didn't have the level of technical expertise yet, but because it has a far more timely and important story, and he could not afford to turn it into some self-indulgent technical exercise.

What we actually have is Hitch at his most thoughtful and least extravagant. Rather than drawing our attention to the smallness of the space, he makes the drama revolve entirely around the characters. His shot compositions are mostly designed to show only the actors, not the boat. This isn't just done with close-ups, but many cleverly arranged group shots. In acknowledgement of just how much the human brain can take in at once, he might have one character talking, while several others stand around them, not as bits of scenery but as part of the narrative. A good example is Walter Slezak, whom Hitch will place in some innocuous part of the shot, only to have the actor turn his head at some key moment while someone else is speaking, making us suddenly remember him and wonder if perhaps he is listening. While Hitch generally let actors get on with their own job, I am sure such precisely timed and presented bits of business were at his behest.

This is not to say the actors in Lifeboat are mere puppets for the director. Slezak is in fact a brilliant performer, intelligently displaying an air of innocence, with now and then a touch of something deeper. His manner is genuinely ambiguous, which makes it believable for the other characters to be divided in their opinion of him. Tallulah Bankhead seems more or less to be playing herself, or at least the delightfully vibrant persona that she crafted for herself. On dry land she could easily come across as a bit of a fraud, but here in the Lifeboat she personifies the spirit of defiance in the face of it all. From the rest of the cast come solid turns which are distinctive and lively, but never quite going so far as stereotype or overstatement.

The end result is not the most conventional piece of wartime propaganda ever. But while not exactly rousing, it is certainly entertaining. And this is what is best about Hitchcock – when he wasn't busy being a technical show-off, he always kept his mind on thrilling and enthralling the audience. A director who plays TO an audience, pandering to a specific set of sensibilities, will make films that will only ever appeal to the tastes of one era. Hitch on the other hand plays WITH the audience, and this has made his pictures stand the test of time.
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Single-set thriller of the kind that only Hitchcock could make.
barnabyrudge9 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Lifeboat was Alfred Hitchcock's only film for 20th Century Fox. It is not widely remembered nowadays - certainly not in the way that Psycho, North By Northwest and Rebecca are remembered - but it still ranks very highly in the director's canon. In the film Hitchcock demonstrates a fascination with restricting the action to a single set. He would return later in his career to the concept of single set stories, for movies such as Rope, Dial M For Murder and Rear Window. It is an approach that would bring most directors to their knees, but Hitch rises to the challenge admirably, finding ingenious ways to maintain audience interest and providing a ceaseless undercurrent of excitement.

A passenger ship torpedoed by a German U-Boat sinks in the Atlantic Ocean. Well-groomed society lady Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead, in an absolutely outstanding performance) successfully mans one of the sunken ship's lifeboats and steers it around the debris in search of survivors. She picks up various types from the sea, including injured sailor Gus Smith (William Bendix), crewman John Kovac (John Hodiak) and the German U-Boat captain (Walter Slezak) whose own submarine was critically damaged in the attack. The dynamic of the group is severely strained by the German's presence, as the other survivors contemplate and argue over whether to toss him to the sharks, or put their trust in him to steer their lifeboat to safety.

Slezak is very good as the tricky German, deviously keeping a stash of water to himself while the others struggle against chronic thirst, and at one point murdering a fellow survivor to keep his water supply a secret. Hitchcock and his script-writer Jo Swerling wisely let us in on the German's true nature, while the characters surrounding him are unaware of his treachery. This keeps tension on a knife-edge throughout the film, and holds the viewer in suspense for the whole story. Similarly, Bankhead's casting is so unorthodox, her character so intentionally ill-fitting to the oceanic setting, that her role in the proceedings casts a strange fascination. The film has a lot of political and propagandist subtext, and many people have viewed it as an allegory of the Nazi rise in Europe (Slezak is the metaphor for Nazi Germany; the others metaphors for surrounding nations duped into believing that the Nazi neighbour in their midst is helpful and trustworthy). Whatever else Lifeboat can and can't be interpreted as, one thing is certain - it's a mighty fine movie!
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I'd like to be lost at sea with this great cast anyday
sabby16 April 1999
In one of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest films, six people with different personalities and backgrounds are stranded together in a lifeboat after the passenger-carrying freighter they are on is sunk by a German u-boat in the Mid-Atlantic. The cast includes the fabulous Tallulah Bankhead as a bitchy photo-journalist, Hume Cronyn as kind-hearted man who finds love on the lifeboat, Canada Lee as a kind steward, Walter Slezak as a mysterious German, and John Hodiak who has to dodge Tallulah's nonstop advances. Hitchcock did this film on one set - the single lifeboat. What's amazing is that he could keep things interesting for two hours, but he managed to somehow. Bankhead is this movie's greatest asset. Reportedly, she didn't wear underwear on the set and constantly kept the crew at attention! This is a great, novel film.
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One of Hitchcock's undeservedly underrated films
TheLittleSongbird9 April 2013
Well actually there are a lot of people who regard Lifeboat quite highly, it's just that while it is possibly not one of Hitchcock's very finest films it is one that is worthy of more credit than it gets. One or two of the characterisations are on the stylised side, like Henry Hull's, but it's not enough to properly drag Lifeboat down. The acting is exceptional on the most part, Tallulah Bankhead's forceful lead performances was most dominant though Walter Slezak's subtle creepiness also stood out. Lifeboat is remarkably well made, it may be deliberately just one set but utilised in a way that it is never monotonous or uninteresting. The cinematography and editing are exemplary, and Hitchcock couldn't have been a more perfect director, his suspenseful touches and atmosphere are all over it without it feeling too much. The story is very suspenseful and gripping, maybe the identity of the villain is not so much of a surprise but what's ingenious is what is done with how the characters find it out for themselves. The dialogue is taut and well written, and there is a brooding score that does nothing to undermine the tension. All in all, a great film and one of Hitchcock's most underrated. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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Claustrophobic but still suspenseful tale on the open seas...
Doylenf25 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
There are times during LIFEBOAT where the claustrophobia can't be avoided, since Hitchcock chose to film it on one set--a lifeboat in the open seas. But thanks to his craftsmanship, it never ceases to absorb the viewer as it becomes a tightly-knit character study of the survivors and their interaction.

Most prominent among the players is TALLULAH BANKHEAD, losing her possessions but gaining some humanity. She's described rather accurately by another poster as "the Maureen Dowd of the '40s", the shallow but sophisticated columnist with a condescending attitude toward everyone but herself.

But it's the WALTER SLEZAK character, a German among the survivors, who holds the most attention and proves that nothing can be seen in terms of black and white when it comes to human character. On the good side, he operates on WILLIAM BENDIX to successfully amputate his leg--but later resorts to murder when Bendix outlives his usefulness.

The other characters are more or less stock types--but are well played by JOHN HODIAK, CANADA LEE, HEATHER ANGEL, HENRY HULL and HUME CRONYN.

Summing up: Absorbing entertainment, stark tale of survival with the Hitchcock touch.
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For Tallulah
Boyo-221 December 1998
Thank God Hitchcock made this movie with Tallulah Bankhead, who never was successful in movies but had a great stage career. She is great in "Lifeboat" but everyone else is, too. The level of suspense and drama is high, and there is one very "Hitckcock" scene that is frightening and scary.
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Hitchcock, the master of single-set suspense
Leofwine_draca27 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The small-scale LIFEBOAT - with the entire movie taking place on the titular vessel - was never going to be one of the Hitchcock greats. Nevertheless, a pacey script means that it rarely sinks into the doldrums, instead remaining an engaging little movie. I've always enjoyed the tension to be had from one-set dramas and this one sees Hitchcock putting his sea-bound setting to fine use.

The story is pretty straightforward: a disparate group of survivors climb aboard a lifeboat after their ship is sunk in the Atlantic by a German U-boat. Soon enough, they are joined by one of the Germans and soon conflict breaks out as they argue over what's best to do with him. Some think they should kill the German, others think he should be allowed to lead them - and watching the drama play out is a lot of fun.

There weren't any major names in the cast in this one for me, and the top-lined Tallulah Bankhead is a bit of an aloof and icy character, but nobody puts a foot wrong as the drama unfolds. Broken limbs, seasickness, impromptu surgery, navigation, lack of food and water, madness, despair, stormy weather and sunstroke are just a few of the things our group has to contend with as the film goes on. The film also boasts a stronger role than usual for the black cast member, Canada Lee, who plays my favourite character, Joe: tough, brave and an underrated addition to the ship's "crew".
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Classic World War Two Confrontational Drama
ShootingShark26 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
During World War II, a US merchant marine ship and a German U-Boat sink each other in the mid-Atlantic. Eight motley survivors of the freighter gather one by one on a small lifeboat, when a ninth man pulls himself aboard and utters a heartfelt, "Danke schön" ...

There are relatively few good films about the Second World War which were actually made during the war (The Great Dictator is the only other one that comes to mind), and only a director of Hitchcock's stature would attempt a film that is so politically charged - Allied morality versus Nazi sensibility - and technically challenging - a movie set entirely on a tiny boat. The fact that it stands up as a suspenseful and intriguing film sixty years after it was made is a testament to his genius. Written by John Steinbeck and Jo Swerling, it's a great idea for a claustrophobic movie; throw together eight people in wartime from one side and one from the other and watch how they treat each other. Bankhead, a much-acclaimed stage actress who didn't have much luck in films shines as a society hack, Hodiak and Hull square off nicely as young buck and rich old man rivals, Cronyn (who wrote and acted in a couple of other Hitchcock movies) has a nice part as a quiet good guy and the rest of the cast give strong support. Slezak (who was Austrian), has the role of a lifetime as Willy, the wily U-Boat Captain, using all his strength and guile to slowly take charge of events. His devious and sinister cunning are chilling, but the astonishing scene where the others snap and lynch him is one of the most disturbing and powerful scenes I have ever come across. A lot of war films deal with tragedy and injustice in a moving and dramatic way, but this film, made during a terrible bloody war, captures a thought-provoking truth about what conflict does to people with a truly intense and lingering profundity. Don't miss Hitch's amusing and clever method of including his standard cameo appearance, despite the film's setting.
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"To survive one must have a plan."
classicsoncall29 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Confined to a single set, the master Alfred Hitchcock directs a compelling psychological drama that uniquely challenges the viewer to reflect on his own reactions to the events presented on screen. In the early going, would you have thrown the German overboard, or acted as a humanitarian? What about later, after Willy (Walter Slezak) is exposed as a scheming Nazi captain deftly maneuvering the boat to his own country's supply ship? Would you have the stomach to assist in cutting off a man's leg? The movie doesn't allow much time to think about it, but that's how life works sometimes.

The film opened to immediate critical acclaim during it's first week of release, however when a negative reviewer opted to focus on the treatment of Willy's character, it called into question whether the story was sympathizing with the Nazi cause. Fearing even further backlash, Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck withdrew the film from general release. To my mind, the issue was dealt with rather expertly in the story. Even though Willy was a cunning schemer who took control of the boat during a storm, he sealed his own fate by going too far to keep Gus (William Bendix) quiet.

Hitchcock accepted a rather difficult task in taking on this assignment. Restricted to just one set, he employed what was until then the most extensive story boarding ever utilized for a movie. The entire movie was drawn out ahead of time, with a myriad of camera angles and weather related elements to convey something different in practically each scene. It works exceptionally well, as one is never left bored with static images or a fixation on any single character or situation.

As for characters, the one cast member with any name recognition at the time was Tallulah Bankhead, who portrayed the journalist Constance Porter. Bankhead was extremely difficult for the other players to work with, and she lorded her celebrity status over all of them. Staffers on the film were intimidated by her name dropping, yet in Hitchcock, she found a kindred spirit, someone she could talk with endlessly on the set.

For those who scour Hitch's films for his cameo appearances, "Lifeboat" presented a dilemma, but that was overcome with a little gimmickry. During this time, Hitchcock was trying to lose weight, succeeding in going from three hundred pounds down to two hundred. In the movie, Kovac (John Hodiak) is shown reading a newspaper, and the camera lingers on an ad for 'Reduco', a weight loss product and 'Obesity Slayer'. The director's full frame profile is used for the before and after comparison, prompting numerous viewers of the time to inquire where they could buy the product, but of course it was all made up.

If ever there was a film that employs symbolism, this one is a treasure trove. It was interesting to me that the first time one gets a view of the entire open sea is right after it's revealed that Mrs. Higley's (Heather Angel) baby is dead. That effectively places the boat's survivors in touch with their own mortality in what might be a hopeless situation. What does it mean when the lone black Joe (Canada Lee) doesn't participate in the gang up on Willy? Gus changes his name from Schmidt to Smith. The prospect of life giving fresh rain is replaced by sunshine instead of a storm, but which is better? There is something meaningful and fascinating to be taken away from this film in virtually every instance.

If all that weren't enough, it was an unusual coincidence of timing that had me see this film when I did. The Cardinals captured the 2006 baseball World Series just a couple of days ago by defeating the Detroit Tigers, four games to one. In the story, William Bendix' character Gus ruminates on the state of baseball at that time with - "St. Louie's the team to watch this year"!
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See It for Tallulah
twanurit23 June 2000
Ms. Bankhead's performance is amazing in this compelling film. In the first scene we are shown astounding destruction at sea from a capsized ship until the camera pans over to a lifeboat where the lone, well-coiffured, mink-draped, all made-up Tallulah is sitting, cross-legged, smoking a cigarette. Then we are shown a close-up of her leg. There's a run in her stocking! She looks more annoyed at that than all the carnage surrounding her! Later on, with more survivors on board and in danger of starving, she worries about how she looks and applies more lipstick! Oh Darling! This is classic cinema and one of the few films of this great lady (she was mostly on stage). John Hodiak (very handsome) is her enemy (at first), while Walter Slezak, Hume Cronin, William Bendix and the others ably support. An astonishing Alfred Hitchcock film.
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As gut-wrenching as any Hitchcock
Sprewell9 February 1999
For some reason, "Lifeboat" has remained a relatively obscure and overlooked Hitchcock film. True, the pace is nothing like a North By Northwest or Rear Window, but the level of drama provided is as high as any of Hitchcock's films, early or late. The scene where the mother wakes up in Tallulah's fur coat and asks where her little Johnny is was one of the most gut wrenching scenes I've ever seen in a movie, and I've seen plenty of movies. The movie, while wonderfully developing its own nine characters, also raises questions aimed at the viewer, pointedly questioning how each one of us would react in those certain situations. Personally, I thought the movie was another Hitchcock masterpiece, and I would definitely give it four out of four stars.
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Thoughtful and Exciting Drama From Hitchcock.
rmax30482313 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This doesn't get much attention and I'm not sure why, because it certainly deserves more. The story of a diverse handful of survivors adrift in the Atlantic after their ship is torpedoed, it represents one of the technical and narrative challenges that Hitchcock at the time was beginning to impose on himself. There's only one set -- the lifeboat -- and how do you give the ten or so people aboard enough to do and say to keep the audience watching? You can't have them almost mowed down by an airplane in the middle of a corn field.

Hitchcock and his writers handled the problem deftly. There isn't a dull moment in the film. They fight storms, cut off legs, play cards, get drunk, fall in love, and kill each other.

John Steinbeck wrote the treatment and the screenplay was polished off by Jo Swerling. It immediately ran into trouble with the Office of War Information and the Breen Office. The handful of British and American survivors pick up the captain of the U-boat, now sunk, that torpedoed their ship -- good old Willie. Willie proves to be more focused and more able than anyone else in the boat. He's not only a master seaman and navigator but a surgeon as well. He turns out to be cheerful, practical, cherubic, avuncular, perceptive, melodious, charismatic, and murderous. He rows the boat in the general direction of the U-boat's mother ship while he sings German folk songs and the others tootle along, accompanying him on a flute. "How'm I doing, Willie?", asks the millionaire Henry Hull. The hypermasculine, possibly communist, John Hodiak mocks Hull in a queer voice, "How'm I doin', Willie?", and then cackles. And why not? After all, everybody in the boat is accompanying Willie.

The problem, as the censors saw it, was that Willie was superior to anyone else in the boat and Willie was a Nazi. The fact that Willie was cheating by swigging from a concealed bottle of water, taking vitamin pills, and peeking at a hidden compass was trumped by the obvious fact that he was the only person who knew exactly what he was doing. The Germans could have shown the film throughout Europe as pro-Nazi propaganda.

Steinbeck caught most of the heat for this, as he had for an earlier screenplay, "The Moon is Down," that humanized a German soldier. Was Steinbeck a crypto-fascist? It's ironic that the question should have been raised because before the war, Steinbeck, the author of such modestly leftist works as "To a God Unknown" and "The Grapes of Wrath", was accused of being a Commie.

There are a couple of shots that no other director would have employed because no other director would have thought of them, and they're not necessarily dramatic or suspenseful. It's a languorous afternoon on the becalmed sea. Hodiak, his torso mottled with tattoos is reading an old newspaper. We see the newspaper from his point of view. Then a mischievous finger pokes slowly through the page and pulls the paper away, to be replaced by Tallulah Bankhead's seductively smiling face dropping gently backwards onto Hodiak's lap. While they swap back stories, she produces her lipstick and adds another fake tattoo to his chest -- the initials C.P. They're Bankhead's initials, of course, "Connie Porter", but they also hint at "Communist Party." With only a few minor exceptions, the acting is superb. I never found myself under Talullah Bankhead's Magic Spell but if I had to choose an actress to play a spoiled, snobbish, rich bitch it might be her. She seems to belong in that mink coat and she practically owns that smoke-cured voice. In many ways, this is her story. She's progressively stripped of every material possession she uses to define herself, and it's her character that shows the most development. Canada Lee, as the black guy, is a fine actor and has the right face for the part but he's saddled with a stereotypical role. There isn't space to get into all the characters but it's clear that Hitchcock opted for genuine faces instead of glamor pusses in this story. John Hodiak looks like an ordinary stoker, not like Cary Grant. And I mean -- take a look at Hume Cronyn. A face made for radio.

You really shouldn't miss this one. It's a lesson in movie-making.
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high tension in the high seas
didi-520 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
***Possible spoilers***

A wartime drama from Alfred Hitchcock, 'Lifeboat' is notable for the following reasons: it takes place in just one setting throughout, the 'lifeboat' of the title; it marked the return to movies of the husky-voiced, 40-something, Tallulah Bankhead, after years on Broadway, playing a hard-bitten journalist whose preoccupations are make-up, getting a good story, and getting what she wants; and it is filmed largely in close-up, adding to the claustrophobia of the small space in which the shipwrecked survivors and the Nazi captain of the U-Boat which sunk them find themselves.

Tallulah Bankhead's forceful screen presence makes her character the nominal focus of the piece, right from the first time we see her, immaculate and alone in the boat. Whether she's lusting after the resident bit of rough (hot-headed crewman Kovac, played by the gorgeous John Hodiak), sparring with the German captain (good but limited performance from Walter Slezak), or needling the factory owning millionaire (Henry Hull), your eye is drawn to her. However, everyone in the movie gets their chance to shine (Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, William Bendix, Canada Lee, and briefly, Heather Angel as a bereaved mother).

My favourite bits in this engaging movie include Bankhead's flirty writing of her initials in lipstick on Hodiak's chest alongside the tattooed initials of his previous conquests; Bendix's dreamy recollections of his dancing days with his girl; Lee's flute playing; Bankhead deciding to give up her bracelet for the good of her fellow survivors (and to help her get what she's after?) and Cronyn unpicking the ribbon from Anderson's hair and realising he is in love with her. The scene where the German is eventually attacked and killed, however, seems contrived. The camera pulls back and we're detached from the characters we've been close to until then.

Not seen often enough these days, this 60-year old movie is one of Hitch's best. It also represents career best performances for many of its talented cast.
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"Dying together's even more personal than living together."
ackstasis17 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Alfred Hitchcock will forever be known as one of cinema's most innovative directors. Many of his most fondly-remembered films are often categorised as film-making "experiments:" 'Rear Window' took place entirely in the one small apartment; 'Rope' was played out almost in real time, and was envisioned as a "one-take" movie; 'Lifeboat' takes place exclusively on a tiny lifeboat in the middle of the wide ocean. However, in my view at least, to categorise these films as mere "experiments" is to take away from the worth of the film itself. Hitchcock did not simply exploit these unusual scenarios as a mere gimmick to pique audience interest; he used them to his advantage, to maximise the emotional resonance of his films. And he did it better than anybody else could possibly envision.

After an Allied freighter is torpedoed by a German U-Boat during World War Two, a handful of survivors of differing personalities and beliefs clamber aboard an unsturdy lifeboat and await rescue. Among the survivors is the Nazi captain of the U-Boat which sunk their ship, and the men and women must decide whether this member of the enemy is trustworthy enough to remain on the boat. As the days drag on and on without a hint of rescue, and with supplies of food and water rapidly dwindling, some survivors forge lifelong bonds with each other, whilst others slowly and surely turn against one another. Meanwhile, the crafty, innocent-seeming German, Willy (Walter Slezak), imperceptibly begins to draw his plans against his rescuers.

A lesser director might have baulked under the task of making a continually-suspenseful 96-minute film set entirely in a lifeboat. Hitchcock, however, used the situation to his advantage, and the tiny set on which 'Lifeboat' was filmed (allegedly the smallest in film history), creates a constricting, claustrophobic atmosphere. The surrounding ocean landscape, presumably simulated using the director's favoured rear-projection, is surprisingly convincing throughout, with the black-and-white photography masking the obviousness of the effect which is often apparent in Hitchcock's later films. During filming, the cast members were exposed to the elements, which aided the realism of their performances, but also led to frequent illnesses such as seasickness and pneumonia.

Solid performances were crucial to the film, and, luckily, the casting here is spot-on. Tallulah Bankhead gives perhaps the stand-out performance as Connie Porter, the selfish and arrogant world-travelling author. Each biting remark is delivered with magnificent pretentious poise, and many have suggested that Bankhead's character is not too different from the actress' own persona. The roles of the other survivors are played very well by William Bendix, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Hume Cronyn and Canada Lee, whilst Walter Slezak delivers a remarkable performance as the sly but strangely-likable German captain, whom you know isn't trustworthy, but you are tempted to trust him anyway.

Upon its release, 'Lifeboat' was interpreted by many critics to be pro-Nazi, and its box-office performance was poor. Nowadays, the film is more often seen to be quite the opposite, as a piece of American propaganda… and a good one at that. Based on a story by iconic American author John Steinbeck, one of the film's main themes is how dark situations can bring out the worst in a civilised group of people. When the Nazi captain is first hauled aboard the lifeboat, wealthy factory owner Charles D. Rittenhouse (Hull) fervently calls for the man to be treated civilly, as a prisoner of war. However, after witnessing the devious exploits of the Nazi, his attitudes perceptibly change. At the end of the film, when a young German seaman clambers aboard the boat, he is among the first to demand that he is tossed overboard like a worthless animal.

The film's depiction of the enemy is quite interesting, though it is certainly not overly positive as many critics originally suggested. Willy, a fascinating character, is at first treated with some sympathy, but all this is cast aside when it is revealed that he has been hoarding food, water and a compass for his own benefit. The final line of the film, Connie's "What are we going to do about people who think like this?" in response to the young Nazi's asking whether or not they are going to kill him, carries a certain note of irony. The characters consider the Germans to be barbaric for even thinking of such a thing, and yet the American survivors had almost been all-too-willing to murder Willy from the moment he came aboard the lifeboat. Perhaps the film is saying that, when it all comes down to it, the Germans and Allies weren't really all that different. Now there's a social commentary that wouldn't have been looked upon too kindly during the early 1940s!
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Dying together's even more personal than living together.
lastliberal13 September 2007
This film got Hitchcock an Oscar nomination and it was well deserved. Tallulah Bankhead got an award from the New York Film Critics for her role in this John Steinbeck story about survivors on a lifeboat.

There was an eclectic mix of characters with a German Captain, an American who changed his German name, a multi-millionaire, a typical New York character, and two from the South side of Chicage, a girl and a guy who find love on the boat, and one black character. You can imagine the stories and conflict in that as they float on the sea.

Hitcock did a create job keeping things moving and the film never dragged as they awaited rescue. Cinematography was excellent. Great cast and an interesting look at how people react without food or water.
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10/10 few people have seen this great work..
fimimix19 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Again, I watched "Lifeboat" tonight - and, again, I read every commentary posted here. AND - again - I'm asking myself how the couple of folk who gave it a "phew" revue could be so assured it is a piece of junk, when were unfamiliar with the acting-skills of a film made so many years ago, nor they've never been in anything near the situation of surviving in a lifeboat. I wouldn't even go to sea in one of those mega-ships; don't even suggest a skiff ! Actually, though, lifeboats are larger than we generally picture - they had to accommodate a number of people. There are a couple of long-range shots of the boat which shows it is larger than we visualize.

Only one commentator gave the film's age - 60 years !; only one commentator wrote that director Alfred Hitchcock considered ONLY Tallulah Bankhead for the female-lead. Several mentioned that Ms. Bankhead was a terror on the stage, so we can certainly assume she gave a lot of input to Hitchcock on how she would build this character. Many wrote that she was not cast in many movies - our loss !! Because the entire film was based-on close-ups, this is a testament to her beauty and skill in acting.

I was taken aback again on how scrawny John Hodiak looked in the movie, as he was one of the big box-office hotties in that period. His acting was superb, but the body needed a lot of work for the bully he played.

We all know by now that he took-over as captain of the lifeboat, but was bested by the rescued, German U-Boat captain - sneakily condescending for his own safety - by Walter Slezak - skillful ! As the movie was purposefully intended to show the reaction of dissimilar characters in a desperate situation, few people commented on the wonderfully-under-played role by a young-and-handsome sailor, Hume Cronyn. William Bendix was William Bendix, although he got higher billing than both Hodiak and Cronyn. Remarkably, no one commented on Canada Lee's question "I get to vote, too?", in those days a loaded line by a Black actor. I was engrossed in how these dissimilar people reacted to one another. I really didn't see this film as a huge, political statement. I only saw raw emotions - well depicted.

AGAIN - I wish to explain that I do not watch movies because of certain actors-actresses - although Bankhead was one of my favorites - I love the movie, as a whole. I was lucky to see it when it was first released and have NEVER lost interest in it. "Lifeboat" is a true-to-life, suspenseful thriller that never drags nor gets boring - it's got my 10-to-10....
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