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Lifeboat

Tallulah Bankhead , John Hodiak , Alfred Hitchcock    Unrated   VHS Tape
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Part mystery, part wartime polemic, Lifeboat finds director Alfred Hitchcock tackling a cinematic challenge that foreshadows the self-imposed handicaps of Rope and Rear Window. As with those subsequent features, Hitchcock confines his action and characters to a single set, in this instance the lone surviving lifeboat from an Allied freighter sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. A less confident, ingenious filmmaker might have opened up John Steinbeck's dialogue-driven character study beyond the battered boat and its cargo of survivors, but Hitchcock instead revels in his predicament to exploit the enforced intimacy between his characters.

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



Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BANKHEAD -- HITCHCOCK May 2 2004
Format:VHS Tape
Tallulah Bankhead was one of the 20th century's best actresses, taking over from Ethel Barrymore as the Toast of Broadway and the London stage. She made few films, and this is her best role. (For a very long time the joke was that Bankhead's stage roles were taken over by and became film hits for Bette Davis. Certainly that's true with Hellman's THE LITTLE FOXES.) Here, one has the opportunity to observe how an actress of supreme talent, handles a role in which everything is shown; in which practically nothing can be hidden. Every would-be actress ought to study not only what she does, but more importantly, what she doesn't do, for as a stage acress par excellence all through her younger years, some movie people thought her too big for the screen. Probably she wasn't, but simply needed a good director. Here, she got the best in the business, and the results show.
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By bernie TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:VHS Tape
What would you do if you were stuck in a lifeboat with a hodgepodge of people and limited supplies? Does this sound like one of those corporate games? Well watch this movie and see how close you come to this fascinating Hitchcock (John Steinbeck story adapted by Jo Swerling) tale. Shot in monochrome adds to the hopeless feel.

It is WWII and a ship is torpedoed and its lifeboats are shot at. Before they went down they dispatched the dastardly U-Boat.

Now an only remaining Lifeboat is being loaded one at a time with a self-centered female journalist (Tallulah Bankhead), a boisterous businessman (Henry Hull), the radio ship's operator, a timid nurse, a ship's steward, a wounded sailor (William Bendix), and an overbearing engineer. We do not stop here the next to be pulled aboard does not speak English (Walter Slezak.)

As with all mixed people movies we slowly earn about everyone's background and a few secrets. As they start picking on each other we see that the only stable person seems to be the U-Boat passenger they picked up. If it were not for him people would have dies and or got lost. Besides doing most of the thinking for them he also has to do most of the rowing.

So why is everyone so upset?

Will they make it on their limited supplies and against the unpredictable sea?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lesser Known Hitchcock Jan. 13 2000
Format:VHS Tape
Lifeboat isn't as famous as some of Hitchcock's other films, but it deserves to be seen today. It's a chance to see Tallulah Bankhead, who if anything, had a very interesting screen presence. She was an original. It's also a chance to see a very human portrayal of an African American character (Canada Lee) at a time when Hollywood rarely did that. There is also a lot of commentary about the Germans and the war, which given the time when this film was made (during the war), makes it all the more fascinating. The performances are good (including a very young Hume Cronyn), and Hitchcock manages to keep the action moving despite having so limited a space in which to do so. If you like Alfred Hitchcock, this is one you should see.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rocking the boat Aug. 5 2000
Format:VHS Tape
An ambitious film for its time, "Lifeboat" capably depicts the despair of a very diverse group of people shipwrecked in a tiny boat on an immense ocean. During a wartime encounter between a British merchant-freighter and a German U-boat, both vessels are sunk and only nine survivors make it into the lifeboat. One is a German submariner. Human compassion prevails as he is permitted aboard -- besides, he is the only one with any ability to navigate. Tallulah Bankhead gives an impressive performance as the domineering, spoiled, Society reporter who takes command of her companions' fate. Skilled in German, only she can communicate with the taciturn "prisoner". Suspense mounts with the suspicion that the German is actually a Nazi officer who is directing the lifeboat into a trap. As the survivors are stricken with one disaster after another, accusations erupt into violence that even the indomitable Tallulah may not be able to control. But through it all, her lipstick and coiffure will remain perfect! This fine classic film is a very intense psychological study which ought to appeal to a new audience enfatuated with current televised "survival" series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
Lifeboat This movie was Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from the story written by John Steinbeck. I enjoyed the use of emotional persuasion and how effective it was to the people on the lifeboat as well as the audience. This movie takes place during WWII. An American Steamer was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and the Steamer sunk the sub. There are eight survivors, a mix of passengers, ships crew and a German Captain. The survivors from the British ship want to get to Bermuda, that was where they were headed. The only one that knew how to handle a boat was the German. He said he would get them to Bermuda but he was really heading for a German supply ship. As major conflicts arise Connie, a high society "news reporter", belittles them and shames them into action. She starts off sarcastically sweet then her voice changes to be patronizing. Then her stance firms up and body language is very clear. She looks down on them. The ones that come ! to mind are: Gus, one of the ships crew who has a passion for dancing and his girlfriend Rosie, was wonded and he had to have his leg amputated as gangrene had settled in. All he could think about was how upset his girlfriend, Rosie, would be if he could not dance. He wanted to die. Connie told him if Rosie thought Gus had died instead of having the operation because he though Rosie would go out with some one else, how would she feel if he died "just because you had no faith in her". It shames him into having the operation. The German is rowing the boat at all times. He speaks only German and Connie speaks it as well. He tells Connie he is rowing them to Bermuda but he is going the wrong way and taking them to a German suppy ship. When they realize what he is really doing, he is beaten up. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must See
After having there ship sunk in WWII, Most of them are from the states but one is a German captain from the sub the sunk there ship. They seem to fight between them selves. Read more
Published 4 months ago by David Snow
5.0 out of 5 stars Good price and arrived on time
I haven't watched this yet, but it arrived in perfect condition and in a timely fashion. The CD and cover are in pristine condition and I do not have any concerns that this will... Read more
Published 7 months ago by sunnyskies
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Hitchcock
Survivors of a German U-Boat attack face off against each other on a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic, and one of them is a Nazi. Read more
Published 10 months ago by R. Pellettier
4.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten classic!
This is a terrific Alfred Hitchcock movie. It is atypical as there is no point of absolute climactic suspense as was customary in most Hitchcock flicks. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Lava1964
5.0 out of 5 stars Dying together's even more personal than living together.
What would you do if you were stuck in a lifeboat with a hodgepodge of people and limited supplies? Does this sound like one of those corporate games? Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2005 by bernie
5.0 out of 5 stars Great.
'Lifeboat' is a great film by the late Alfred Hitchcock. He is really truly a master of filmmaking and very few directors could make such a fantastic story from such a limited... Read more
Published on April 10 2004 by Dhaval Vyas
4.0 out of 5 stars Hitchcock in a Tank?
A very nice ensemble cast delivers the claustrophobia in this
"Lifeboat"
Heather Angel and Henry Hull always seem to be least recognized in this drama although thw whole... Read more
Published on March 7 2004 by Charles Pope
5.0 out of 5 stars From Another World
To those only acquainted with the later Hitchcock work of the 50's on, this little gem is a new exposure and an education. Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2003 by JK
5.0 out of 5 stars A great drama!
This movie is a great drama. It has wonderful actors and a good
setting. It also has a mystery. This movie is a movie that you should see.
Published on Dec 31 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars A little boring, but good
Hitchcock isn't at his best though this film is a classic. Tallulah Bankhead plays a woman who survived with 6 other people when the ship they were on was destroyed by a German... Read more
Published on March 15 2002
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