Lifeboat – Alfred Hitchcock – 1944

Lifeboat CoverOriginal title: Lifeboat
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Year: 1944
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Duration: 97 min.
Genres: Thriller, War


It’s not easy finding a good Hitchcock film with only a handful of viewers. He is so well known, even to the normal audiences, that most of his top films are widely known and seen. Maybe I’ll do another one about The Lodger one day, but I think that’s about all I would be able to find. At the moment of writing this, I have seen 27 Hitchcock films, about half of his oeuvre. Lifeboat is one of them, at in my opinion it ranks just below his most well known successes, like Vertigo, Psycho and Rear Window. But it compares well to films such as The 39 Steps, To Catch a Thief and Spellbound, meaning it’s still a very good film.


Many people these days have seen the film Hitchcock (2012), starring Anthony Hopkins. It’s a so-so film about the making of Psycho, but it contains a few fun facts. In every single one of his films, Hitchcock would make a cameo appearance. Usually this was as a passer by or as one of many people in a crowd. So how did he do it when the whole film took place inside a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean? I won’t say, but I think it’s actually one of his better ones, as he’s clearly mocking himself. It’s also well known he liked to experiment in his films. Do things no one has done before. For Lifeboat, the gimmick was to have the entire film take place inside a lifeboat floating somewhere in the ocean.


Our first reaction would probably be, how could that ever result in an interesting film? But there’s an even bigger problem. How on earth do you film it? There was no CGI in 1944, no green screens, and filming out in the open, let alone at sea, was terribly difficult. You can’t control the weather, ambient noises or the lighting, and how would the viewer not get seasick as the camera would also have to be on a boat? Well, remember that photograph of the Titanic? The one with the little plastic bath? They did something similar, but on a slightly larger scale. They made a huge water tank to put the boat in. They used big wind turbines to create waves, or to create a breeze. For certain shots, they used only half a boat or a third, with a little scenery screen behind it. Ingenious for the time it was filmed in.

And the story itself? Not much to tell really. Lifeboat’s release year 1944 means it was filmed during WW2. The newspapers in those days were filled with stories of crews being rescued from the ocean, after their ships were sunk by the enemy. Hitchcock wanted to film such a story, and to do it he put a small ship crew inside a lifeboat. A few women, a variety of white American men, one German man from the ship that sank the American one, and one black guy. Now I’m not being racist here. Actually having a non-white male in such a prominent place was probably quite a thing in those days, even though his lines are limited. Black people in those days were usually only cast as servants to rich white people, as inmates, dock workers or shoe shiners.

The cast is relatively unknown for a Hitchcock film, but I would like to give some bonus credit to William Bendix. I can’t help but love that guy, no matter what film he plays in. This is one of his earlier roles, and he did really well. Main roles in Lifeboat are for Tallulah Bankhead, and Walter Slezak as the German guy. The script was written by the famous John Steinbeck, who one might know better as writer of The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden or Of Mice and Men. The whole ride is a constant thrill, and it keeps you wondering whether or not to trust the Nazi, human morale, the American way, and even if they’ll all get rescued in the end.

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