Indeed, we never actually see the doomed freighter--the smoking ship's funnel beneath the credits simply sinks beneath the waves, and we're plunged into the escalating tensions between those who gradually find their way to the boat, a band of eight English and American passengers and crew, plus a German sailor (Walter Slezak) rescued from the U-boat, itself destroyed by the freighter's deck gun. Heading the cast and inevitably commanding their and our attention is the cello-voiced Tallulah Bankhead as Connie Porter, a cynical, sophisticated writer whose priorities seem to be hanging onto her mink and keeping her lipstick fresh. Gradually, the others find Porter and her lifeboat, forming a temporary community that inevitably suggests a careful cross section of archetypes, from wealthy industrialist (Henry Hull) to ship's boiler men (John Hodiak and William Bendix).
Hitchcock juggles the interpersonal skirmishes between the boat's occupants with the mystery of their German prisoner, which itself becomes a meditation on the fine line between nationalism and morality, a line that Slezak walks delicately until his identity is resolved. Visually, Hitchcock transforms his back-lot set and its rear-projected cloudbanks into a desolate stretch of ocean, while capturing the horror of an amputation through an economical set of images culminating in an empty boot. --Sam Sutherland
After their ship is sunk in the Atlantic by Germans, eight people are stranded in a lifeboat, among them a glamorous journalist (Tallulah Bankhead), a tough seaman (John Hodiak), a nurse (Mary Anderson) and an injured sailor (William Bendix). Their problems are further compounded when they pick up a ninth passenger - the Nazi captain from the U-boat that torpedoed them. With its powerful interplay of suspense and emotion, this legendary classic is a microcosm of humanity, revealing the subtleties of man's strengths and frailties under extraordinary duress.
Hitchcock was fascinated with women, with actresses, and particularly beautiful ones. And, if Connie's beauty here, is not young, and fresh, it is nevertheless, compelling. She is like a thoroughbred mare among mules and cab nags in an auction pen of chance. She stands out because of her breeding. She has lines. Her costume? A white silk blouse, good nylons, a full-length mink coat, and a diamond bracelet. And, of course, that wonderful mane of hair.
If you study Hitchcock, it would make a wonderful double bill to see LIFEBOAT and STAGE FRIGHT close together. Here, he studies Bankhead; in STAGEFRIGHT he studies Dietrich; two fair-haired actresses of wildly differing personal style, but of exceptional power and interest. And, what they have in common and what both display in these two films, is their unusual, and unusually expressive voices. Bankhead was a famous radio actress for many years, as well as a stage star. Dietrich too was a radio actress, and all her life was a singer and recording artist. The trick in working with an artist with an exceptional voice, is to carefully trim and arrange the dialogue in such a way as best to show off the voice's characteristics.
Admirers of Lesbian Chic might want to imagine what Ann Sheridan, or Barbara Stanwick, Rosalind Russell, Ruth Hussey or Lizabeth Scott or any one of a number of others might have done with this "Contralto" role: You know, the wise-cracking, hard boiled newspaper dame. The role is a Type, very popular during the 30's, and with a lesser actress and a lesser director, we might have gotten a good movie out of the material, but not a black-and-white masterpiece, like this one. After all, what if CASABLANCA had been cast with Ronald Raegan and Heddy Lamarr?
You can watch this movie over and over. A director's tour de force, the trick, I think, is to watch for Hitchcock's cutting sequences; the way he manipulated the editing around the actors' speeches within the episodes. Extremely clever. So good, the seams are nearly invisible.
Its a great propaganda movie, but of an unusual kind; far subtler than most. Its a great Camp, or G/L movie, but again, far subtler than most. Its a great Murder movie too, etc., etc...
Heather Angel and Henry Hull always seem to be least recognized in this drama although thw whole... Read more