Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lifeboat (1944)

Although I wouldn't consider Lifeboat to be one of Hitchcock's best films, it is still worth seeing. Straying away from his niche of suspenseful mysteries, Hitch goes into an examination of characters and human nature as he sticks seven survivors of a shipwreck on a lifeboat, as well as a survivor from the Nazi U-Boat that sunk them.

Tallulah Bankhead plays Connie Porter, a world famous photographer and reporter who was covering the war in Europe and traveling to Bermuda when the ship was sunk. She is seemingly very self-absorbed and the only thing that seems to matter to her is getting material for her book.

Gus Smith (William Bendix) was a crewman aboard the ship. He was at the wheel when the ship went down, and was hit in the leg with some shrapnel and is very worried about becoming gimpy if his leg doesn't heal. Gus has German heritage, and has changed his name from Schmidt to Smith out of embarrassment and shame of the Nazis. Back home he has a girl named Rosie whom he loves very much, and he is worried that if he returns a gimp that she may leave him for another man.

John Hodiak is John Kovac, an engine room worker and tattooed bad boy. He is a born leader, but his brash personality and attitude make the others distrust his judgment at times. When the Nazi is brought on board Kovac immediately distrusts him and wants him thrown overboard. Kovac also has an immediate strong distaste for Connie and her selfish attitude.

Charles Rittenhouse, or Ritt as he likes to be called (Henry Hull) is a self-made millionaire with many factories stateside. Ritt is friends with Connie from the ship, and they are very buddy-buddy with each other on the lifeboat. He loves to play poker, and passes his time on board the lifeboat by playing cards with Kovac.

Mary Anderson plays Alice MacKenzie, a medical officer in the U.S. Army. For her the shipwreck was a blessing in disguise because the boat was eventually going to take her to London where she had some trouble with a married man. Alice is a very pretty young woman, and there seems to be some kind of romance brewing between her and Sparks (Hume Cronyn). Sparks is a Merchant Marine whom you don't really learn much about. He seems to be a good man, and does a good job of keeping his cool in rough situations.

Joe (Canada Lee) is the last of the survivors from the ship. He is the only African-American on the lifeboat, and is a sympathetic and good-natured character; a rarity in films during this time period. He is an ex-pickpocket who is leading a good life with his wife and children. He also seems to have known Connie and Ritt from before, and spends a great deal of time playing the flute.

Willy the Nazi (Walter Slezak) is the only survivor from the U-Boat that shot down the ship. No one really knows whether to trust him or not at the beginning, or whether or not to even let him live. He seems like an all-right fellow but you really can't trust a Nazi. He is only able to communicate through Connie who is the only one aboard who speaks German.

Lifeboat is worth watching, especially if you're a Hitchcock fan who would like to see something different. Hitch does a great job of giving us unique characters and unique reactions to a group mentality as well as difficult moral situations. William Bendix is the brightest star of the picture in my opinion, he gained my respect as an actor in his debut role in Woman of the Year and he is just as superb in Lifeboat as he is in the previously mentioned.

If you have yet to see a Hitchcock picture, I would not start with Lifeboat, as you will not get a good feel for his directorial style. I would definitely recommend it for future viewing, but I would get you started with Vertigo or North by Northwest (which happen to be two of my all-time favorite films).

Lifeboat is based off of a novella by John Steinbeck, which alone is reason enough to see the film. It is impossible for me to say whether or not Hitch stuck to Steinbeck's story because the Steinbeck story has never been published. I have been led to understand however that if you would like to view a copy of it then you can make an appointment at the National Steinbeck Center in Carmel, California. Worth watching, especially if you're a fan of Hitchcock or Steinbeck. Overall 3.0/4 Stars Grade = B+