Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lifeboat (1944)

A ship is sunk by a German U-Boat and survivors assemble onto a remaining lifeboat. A torpedo also downs the U-Boat and one of the survivors is a Nazi. How can this crazy, mixed up family learn to get along?

Here we have an eclectic cast in a very confined space. Americans, Brits, and a Nazi. Engine room grunts, a socialite, a negro, a millionaire, a crazy person, Gilligan, the Skipper, and a Nazi. A few conflicts, mysteries, and deaths. I will give nothing away. Did I mention there was a Nazi? Well, that’s kinda a spoiler, I guess.

Socialite reporter Tallulah Bankhead lived an interesting life. She started in Hollywood but didn’t get far. So she became a hit on the London stage. Tried and failed again at Hollywood, then took Broadway and the New York social scene by storm, She returned to Hollywood at forty and made Lifeboat. Her unconventional style and open sexuality earned her fans and detractors. Her Hollywood career didn’t last and her last role was as Batman villain Black Widow.

The set for Lifeboat was tall to make room for the water, and actors had to climb a ladder to get into the boat. It was noted that Tallulah did not wear underpants, Hitchcock reportedly remarked "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing." Maybe apocryphal but amusing nevertheless.

Longtime readers may remember William Bendix from Blue Dahlia, or Henry Hull from Werewolf of London, or Walter Slezak from The Inspector General, or maybe Hume Cronyn from,well I guess nothing I’ve seen so far. He was in several films on my must-see list. He effected a terrible cockney accent hard to forget. Amazing cast of character actors, reminiscent of 12 Angry Men. And written by John Steinbeck to boot!

Lifeboat is a survival story and a character study. I find early Hitchcock to be inspired but somehow flawed. An exaggerated ending or otherwise unpolished. Lifeboat is Hitch at the prime of his career, on the verge of greatness. Thrilling throughout and way better than I expected. AMRU 4.

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