Hitchcock Blogathon #6: Lifeboat

Ring a Ding Ding

Lifeboat (1944)

     I recal when the contemporary Phone Booth came out a few years ago, many viewers complained that the entire movie takes place in that dang phone booth. Jump back about 60 years and Hitchcock gave us a masterpiece that persists entirely in a Lifeboat.

     Starting after an explosion when a ship and U-boat sink each other, we meet the various characters as they clamor into a lifeboat. The 10 characters represent all walks of life. From a glamorous reporter in Tallulah Bankhead, to a distraught mother whose baby dies, a sailor with a gangrenous leg, and a Nazi soldier. The German character presents the conflict in the story as the other passengers are unsure if he can be trusted. Indeed, he is hiding a flask of water and compass and will lead the boat towards a Nazi vessel. The characters are all very different, and what starts out as a good-natured jaunt turns into tense hatred among the characters as rations dwindle and exhaustion sets in.

     The story is credited to John Steinbeck who wrote a novelette for Hitchcock of which the director was not too fond. Like most Hitchcock films, the story would be worked on my multiple parties but only one or two would be credited on screen. In this case, Steinbeck got the billing even though studio writer Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay, relying minimally on the novelette. After a year of writing and casting, trouble started with the Office of War Information. Officials said the story offered the depiction of Americans the Nazi propagandists like to promote and the German character is the only hero. Yet somehow Hitchcock’s script survived and was nominated for Best Screenplay (in addition to Best Cinematography and Best Director).

     Bankhead, who was famous for her stage work but had done notoriously poor in films, was Hitchcock’s ideal actress for the role of Connie Porter. The character was developed with bits of Bankhead’s personality, although not the part the cast and crew saw on the set. Apparently adverse to undergarments, Bankhead often lifted her skirt or spread her legs on screen and off, disconcerting crew members and cameramen. Hitchcock’s response to complaints was: “This is not for me to handle. We shall call the hairdresser.”

The MacGuffin: Given the entire motivation of the story is survival, there is no MacGuffin propelling the plot.

Where’s Hitch? With the action confined to a boat, Hitchcock clearly could not just walk by to make his cameo appearance. Instead, he appears in an ad for a weight-loss product, complete with before and after shots of the director who around the time had lost significant weight.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for adding this, one of my favorite Hitchcock films, to your list for the marathon!

    I enjoy these types of dramas in which the setting is simple, the actors are thrown in together with little need for special effects, and the viewer still is taken along for a ride thanks to excellent writing and acting.

    I am going to have to rewatch now with the intent of finding a MacGuffin! Keep up the great work :)

  2. The kiss at 39:10 in Lifeboat is one of the most powerful ever filmed.

    See this piece —

    Hitchcock’s Lifeboat: The Most Erotic Kiss in Cinema History

    http://themintyplum.com/?p=1653

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