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Lifeboat (film)

Lifeboat (film)

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Lifeboat is an American war film directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

 from a story written by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. was an American writer. He is widely known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden and the novella Of Mice and Men...

. The film stars Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was an award-winning American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante...

, William Bendix
William Bendix
William Bendix was an American film, radio, and television actor, best remembered in movies for the title role in the movie The Babe Ruth Story and for portraying clumsily earnest aircraft plant worker Chester A. Riley in radio and television's The Life of Riley...

, Walter Slezak
Walter Slezak
Walter Slezak was a portly Austrian character actor who appeared in numerous Hollywood films. Slezak often portrayed villains or thugs, most notably the German U-boat captain in Alfred Hitchcock's film Lifeboat , but occasionally he got to play lighter roles, as in The Wonderful World of the...

, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak
John Hodiak
John Hodiak was an American actor who worked in radio and film.-Early life:He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Walter Hodiak and Anna Pogorzelec . He was of Ukrainian and Polish descent...

, Henry Hull
Henry Hull
Henry Watterson Hull was an American character actor with a unique voice, most noted for playing the lead in Universal Pictures's Werewolf of London .-Life and career:Hull was born in Louisville, Kentucky...

, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn
Hume Cronyn
Hume Blake Cronyn, OC was a Canadian actor of stage and screen, who enjoyed a long career, often appearing professionally alongside his second wife, Jessica Tandy.-Early life:...

 and Canada Lee
Canada Lee
Canada Lee was an American actor who pioneered roles for African Americans. A champion of civil rights in the 1930s and 1940s, he died shortly before he was scheduled to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He became an actor after careers as a jockey, boxer, and musician...

, and is set entirely on a lifeboat
Lifeboat (shipboard)
A lifeboat is a small, rigid or inflatable watercraft carried for emergency evacuation in the event of a disaster aboard ship. In the military, a lifeboat may be referred to as a whaleboat, dinghy, or gig. The ship's tenders of cruise ships often double as lifeboats. Recreational sailors sometimes...

.

The film is the first in Hitchcock's 'limited-setting' films, the others being Rope
Rope (film)
Rope is a 1948 American thriller film based on the play Rope by Patrick Hamilton and adapted by Hume Cronyn and Arthur Laurents, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by Sidney Bernstein and Hitchcock as the first of their Transatlantic Pictures productions...

(1948), Dial M for Murder
Dial M for Murder
Dial M for Murder is a 1954 American thriller film adapted from a successful stage play by Frederick Knott, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. The movie was released by the Warner Bros...

(1954), and Rear Window
Rear Window
Rear Window is a 1954 American suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by John Michael Hayes and based on Cornell Woolrich's 1942 short story "It Had to Be Murder"...

(1954). The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Original Motion Picture Story and Best Black and White Cinematography.

Plot


Several American and British civilians are stuck in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic after their ship and a U-boat
U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 sink each other in combat. Willi (Slezak), a German survivor, is pulled aboard and denies being an enemy officer. During an animated debate, Kovac (Hodiak) demands the German be thrown out and allowed to drown. However, cooler heads prevail, with Garrett (Cronyn) and columnist Connie Porter (Bankhead) asserting the German's prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 status, and he is allowed to stay.

One passenger, an infant, dies almost immediately after boarding. His mother, a young English woman (Angel), who, after being treated by a nurse (Anderson), must be tied down to stop her from hurting herself. The woman sneaks off the boat while the other passengers sleep, drowning herself in the night.

The film then follows the lifeboat inhabitants as they attempt to organize their rations, set a course for Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

, and coexist as they try to survive. The characters start out being good-natured, cooperative, and optimistic about rescue. However, they descend into desperation, dehydration, and frustration with each other. The back stories of the characters are examined, and divisions of race, religion, sex, class, and nationality are brought to the surface. The passengers also cooperate through this stress, such as when they must amputate the leg of one of their boatmates due to gangrene.

Kovac takes charge, rationing the little food and water they have; but Willi gradually takes control away from him. Willi is later revealed to be the U-boat captain. One morning, while the others are sleeping, the injured German-American Gus Smith (Bendix) catches Willi drinking water from a hidden flask. Too delirious and weak to wake anybody up, Gus is pushed overboard by Willi and drowns while the others sleep. Upon waking, the others discover Gus missing and Willi is questioned. When they notice that the German is sweating, the other passengers discover the hoarded flask in his jacket. In a spasm of anger they descend upon him as a group, beat him, and throw him overboard, striking him multiple times with Gus's boot to prevent him from re-boarding. Musing on Willi's treachery, Rittenhouse (Hull) asks, "What do you do with people like that?"

The survivors are subsequently spotted by the German supply ship to which Willi had been steering them. Before a launch can pick them up, both the supply ship and rescue-lifeboat are sunk by an Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 warship. A frightened young German seaman is pulled aboard the lifeboat. He pulls a gun on the boat occupants but is surprised and disarmed. He asks in German "aren't you going to kill me?" The film ends with surviving passengers arguing about keeping the new German sailor aboard, or throwing him off to drown as they await the Allied vessel to rescue them. Again the question is asked, "What do you do with people like that?"

Cast

  • Tallulah Bankhead
    Tallulah Bankhead
    Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was an award-winning American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante...

     as Constance "Connie" Porter
  • William Bendix
    William Bendix
    William Bendix was an American film, radio, and television actor, best remembered in movies for the title role in the movie The Babe Ruth Story and for portraying clumsily earnest aircraft plant worker Chester A. Riley in radio and television's The Life of Riley...

     as Gus Smith
  • Walter Slezak
    Walter Slezak
    Walter Slezak was a portly Austrian character actor who appeared in numerous Hollywood films. Slezak often portrayed villains or thugs, most notably the German U-boat captain in Alfred Hitchcock's film Lifeboat , but occasionally he got to play lighter roles, as in The Wonderful World of the...

     as Willi
  • Mary Anderson as Alice MacKenzie
  • John Hodiak
    John Hodiak
    John Hodiak was an American actor who worked in radio and film.-Early life:He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Walter Hodiak and Anna Pogorzelec . He was of Ukrainian and Polish descent...

     as John Kovac
  • Henry Hull
    Henry Hull
    Henry Watterson Hull was an American character actor with a unique voice, most noted for playing the lead in Universal Pictures's Werewolf of London .-Life and career:Hull was born in Louisville, Kentucky...

     as Charles D. "Ritt" Rittenhouse
  • Heather Angel
    Heather Angel (actress)
    Heather Grace Angel was an English actress.-Life and career:Born in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, she was brought up on a farm near Banbury....

     as Mrs. Higgins
  • Hume Cronyn
    Hume Cronyn
    Hume Blake Cronyn, OC was a Canadian actor of stage and screen, who enjoyed a long career, often appearing professionally alongside his second wife, Jessica Tandy.-Early life:...

     as Stanley "Sparks" Garrett
  • Canada Lee
    Canada Lee
    Canada Lee was an American actor who pioneered roles for African Americans. A champion of civil rights in the 1930s and 1940s, he died shortly before he was scheduled to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He became an actor after careers as a jockey, boxer, and musician...

     as George "Joe" Spencer
  • William Yetter Jr. as German sailor


Except for a cameo appearance
Cameo appearance
A cameo role or cameo appearance is a brief appearance of a known person in a work of the performing arts, such as plays, films, video games and television...

 in Stage Door Canteen
Stage Door Canteen
Stage Door Canteen is a musical film produced by Sol Lesser Productions and distributed by United Artists. It was directed by Frank Borzage and features many cameo appearances by celebrities, and the majority of the film is essentially a filmed concert although there is also a storyline to the...

(1943), Bankhead had not appeared in a film since Faithless
Faithless (1932 film)
Faithless is a 1932 romantic drama film about a spoiled socialite who learns a sharp lesson when she loses all her money during the Great Depression. It stars Tallulah Bankhead and Robert Montgomery...

in 1932. She was paid $75,000 for her work in Lifeboat.

Production



At the time that Lifeboat went into production, Alfred Hitchcock was under contract to David O. Selznick
David O. Selznick
David O. Selznick was an American film producer. He is best known for having produced Gone with the Wind and Rebecca , both of which earned him an Oscar for Best Picture.-Early years:...

. Twentieth Century-Fox obtained the director's services in exchange for that of several actors and technicians, as well as the rights to three stories that Fox owned. Hitchcock was to direct two films for the studio, but the second was never made, apparently because Fox was unhappy with the length of time taken to finish production on Lifeboat.

It was Hitchcock who came up with the idea for the film. He approached A.J. Cronin, James Hilton
James Hilton
James Hilton was an English novelist who wrote several best-sellers, including Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.-Biography:...

 and Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economic and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the...

 to help write the script, before giving the project to John Steinbeck, who had previously written the screenplay for the 1941 documentary The Forgotten Village
The Forgotten Village
The Forgotten Village is an American documentary film -- some sources call it an ethnofiction film -- directed by Herbert Kline and Alexander Hammid, written by John Steinbeck, and narrated by Burgess Meredith...

, but had not written a fictional story for the screen. It was Steinbeck's intention to write and publish a novel and sell the rights to the studio, but the story was never published, as his literary agents considered it "inferior". Steinbeck received $50,000 for the rights to his novella. A condensed version of the film story appeared in Collier's
Collier's Weekly
Collier's Weekly was an American magazine founded by Peter Fenelon Collier and published from 1888 to 1957. With the passage of decades, the title was shortened to Collier's....

magazine on November 13, 1942, credited to Hitchcock and writer Harry Sylvester
Harry Sylvester
Harry Ambrose Sylvester was an American short-story writer and novelist in the first half of the 20th century. His stories were published in popular magazines such as Collier's, Esquire and Commonweal, publishing over 150 short stories...

 with Steinbeck credited with the "original screen story". Other writers who worked on various drafts of the script include Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville
Alma Reville
Alma Reville, Lady Hitchcock was an English assistant director, screenwriter and editor. She was the second daughter of Edward and Lucy Reville....

, MacKinlay Kantor
MacKinlay Kantor
MacKinlay Kantor , born Benjamin McKinlay Kantor, was an American journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He wrote more than 30 novels, several based on the American Civil War, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1956 for his 1955 novel Andersonville, about the Confederate prisoner of war camp...

, Patricia Collinge
Patricia Collinge
Patricia Collinge was an Irish American actress. She was born in Dublin, Ireland.-Early life:She was born to F. Channon Collinge and Emmie Russell. Her birth name was Eileen Cecilia Collinge. Collinge was educated first by a visiting governess and then at a girls' school. She took dancing and...

, Albert Mannheimer and Marian Spitzer. Hitchcock also brought in Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist. Called "the Shakespeare of Hollywood", he received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some 70 films and as a prolific storyteller, authored 35 books and created some of...

 to rewrite the ending.

Lifeboat was originally planned to be filmed in Technicolor, with an all-male cast, many of whom were going to be unknowns. Canada Lee, who was primarily a stage actor, with only one film credit at the time was the first actor cast in the film.

Hitchcock pre-planned the camera angles for the film using a miniature lifeboat and figurines. Four lifeboats were utilized during shooting. Rehearsals took place in one, separate boats were used for close-ups and long shots, and another was in the studio's large-scale tank, where water shots were made. Except for background footage shot by the second unit around Miami, in the Florida Keys
Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a coral archipelago in southeast United States. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry...

 and on San Miguel Island
San Miguel Island
San Miguel Island is the westernmost of California's Channel Islands, located across the Santa Barbara Channel in the Pacific Ocean, within Santa Barbara County, California. San Miguel is the sixth-largest of the eight Channel Islands at , including offshore islands and rocks. Prince Island, off...

 in California, the film was shot entirely in the Twentieth Century-Fox studio on Pico Boulevard
Pico Boulevard
Pico Boulevard is a major Los Angeles street that runs from the Pacific Ocean at Appian Way in Santa Monica to Central Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, California, USA...

 in what is now Century City.

Lifeboat was in production from August 3 through November 17, 1943. Illness
Illness
Illness is a state of poor health. Illness is sometimes considered another word for disease. Others maintain that fine distinctions exist...

es were a constant part of the production from the beginning. Before shooting began, William Bendix replaced actor Murray Alper
Murray Alper
Murray Alper was an American actor.Alper's earliest screen credit was 1930's The Royal Family of Broadway, and for the following thirty-five years, he appeared in a number of films, usually playing cab drivers, bookies, cops and GIs.Frequently seen in comedies, Alper was featured in the Three...

 when Alper became ill, and after two weeks of shooting, director of photography Arthur Miller was replaced by Glen MacWilliams because of illness. Tallulah Bankhead came down with pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

 twice during shooting, and Mary Anderson became seriously ill during production, causing several days of production time to be lost.. Hume Cronyn suffered two cracked ribs, and nearly drowned when he was caught under a water-activator making waves for a storm scene. He was saved by a lifeguard.

The film is unique among Hitchcock's American films for having no musical score during the narrative; the Fox studio orchestra was only utilized for the opening and closing credits.

Cameo


Director Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearances in most of his films. He once commented to François Truffaut
François Truffaut
François Roland Truffaut was an influential film critic and filmmaker and one of the founders of the French New Wave. In a film career lasting over a quarter of a century, he remains an icon of the French film industry. He was also a screenwriter, producer, and actor working on over twenty-five...

 -- in Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967) -- that this particular cameo was difficult to achieve, due to the lack of passers-by in the film. While having originally considered posing as a body floating past the lifeboat—which he later considered for his cameo in Frenzy -- after his success in weight loss, Hitchcock decided to pose for "before" and "after" photos for an advertisement for a fictional weight-loss drug, "Reduco", shown in a newspaper. Supposedly he later received hundreds of letters from people asking where they could buy Reduco, which he used again in Rope
Rope (film)
Rope is a 1948 American thriller film based on the play Rope by Patrick Hamilton and adapted by Hume Cronyn and Arthur Laurents, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by Sidney Bernstein and Hitchcock as the first of their Transatlantic Pictures productions...

where Hitchcock's profile and Reduco appear on a red neon sign. The Lifeboat cameo appears 24 minutes into the film.

Response


While modern critics are apt to see the film as unsubtle wartime propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

, Lifeboat portrayal of a German character in what was perceived as a positive fashion caused considerable controversy at the time of its release. Influential reviewers and columnists such as Dorothy Thompson
Dorothy Thompson
Dorothy Thompson was an American journalist and radio broadcaster, who in 1939 was recognized by Time magazine as the second most influential women in America next to Eleanor Roosevelt...

 and Bosley Crowther
Bosley Crowther
Bosley Crowther was a journalist and author who was film critic for The New York Times for 27 years. His reviews and articles helped shape the careers of actors, directors and screenwriters, though his reviews, at times, were unnecessarily mean...

 of the New York Times saw the film as denigrating the American and British characters while glorifying the German. Crowther wrote that "that the Nazis, with some cutting here and there, could turn Lifeboat into a whiplash against the 'decadent democracies.' And it is questionable whether such a picture, with such a theme, is judicious at this time." In Truffaut's 1967 book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock paraphrased Thompson's criticism as "Dorothy Thompson gave the film three days to get out of town."

Such commentary caused Steinbeck, who had previously been criticized because of his handling of German characters in The Moon is Down
The Moon Is Down
The Moon Is Down, a novel by John Steinbeck fashioned for adaption for the theatre and for which Steinbeck received the Norwegian Haakon VII Cross of freedom, was published by Viking Press in March 1942...

, to publicly disassociate himself from the film, to denounce Hitchcock and Swerling's treatment of his material, and to request that his name not be used by Fox in connection with the presentation of the film. Crowther responded by detailing the differences between Steinbeck's novella and the film as released, accusing the film's creators of "pre-empting" Steinbeck's "creative authority".

Hitchcock responded to the criticism by explaining that the film's moral was that the Allies
Allies
In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them...

 needed to stop bickering and work together to win the war, and he defended the portrayal of the Nazi character, saying "I always respect my villain, build[ing] him into a redoubtable character that will make my hero or thesis more admirable in defeating him or it." Bankhead backed him up in an interview in which she said that the director "wanted to teach an important lesson. He wanted to say that you can't trust the enemy... in Lifeboat you see clearly that you can't trust a Nazi, no matter how nice he seems to be."

Another criticism leveled at the film was that the portrayal of the African-American character "Joe" was too stereotypical. Actor Canada Lee testified that he had attempted to round out the character by revising dialogue and cutting some actions, but did not succeed.

Generally, though, critics praised the film's acting and directing, and noted with appreciation the lack of background music once the film proper begins. Still, studio executives, under pressure because of the controversies, decided to give the film a limited release instead of the wide release most of Hitchcock's films received. Advertising for the film was also reduced, which resulted in the film's poor box office showing when it was released in 1944.

Awards and honors


As well as 1944 Academy Award nominations for "Best Black and White Cinematography" for Glen MacWilliams, "Best Original Story" for John Steinbeck, and "Best Director" for Alfred Hitchcock, Lifeboat received other award consideration. Tallulah Bankhead won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for "Best Actress", and the film was named one of the 10 Best Films of 1944 by Film Daily, and was nominated for Best Picture of 1944 by the National Board of Review.

Adaptations


NBC broadcast a one hour radio adaptation of the film on Screen Directors Playhouse on November 16, 1950. Hitchcock directed, and Bankhead reprised her role from the film. The rest of the cast featured Jeff Chandler
Jeff Chandler (actor)
Jeff Chandler was an American film actor and singer in the 1950s.-Early life:Chandler was born Ira Grossel to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of Anna and Phillip Grossel. He attended Erasmus Hall High School, the alma mater of many stage and film personalities...

 and Sheldon Leonard
Sheldon Leonard
Sheldon Leonard was a pioneering American film and television producer, director, writer, and actor.-Biography:...

.

In 1993, Lifeboat was remade as a science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 TV movie under the title Lifepod
Lifepod
Lifepod is a 1993 reworking of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Lifeboat. It starred Ron Silver, Robert Loggia, Kelli Williams & C. C. H. Pounder, with Silver also directing. The TV movie aired on Fox Network in June 1993....

. Moving the action from a lifeboat to a spaceship's escape capsule in the year 2169, the remake starred Ron Silver
Ron Silver
Ronald Arthur "Ron" Silver was an American actor, director, producer, radio host and political activist.-Early life:...

, who also directed, Robert Loggia
Robert Loggia
Robert Loggia is an American film and television actor and director.- Early life :Loggia, an Italian American, was born on Staten Island, the son of Elena Blandino, a homemaker, and Benjamin Loggia, a shoemaker, both of whom were born in Sicily, Italy...

 and CCH Pounder
CCH Pounder
Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder , known professionally as C. C. H. Pounder , is a Guyanese-American film and television actress...

. The film was aired on the Fox Broadcasting Company
Fox Broadcasting Company
Fox Broadcasting Company, commonly referred to as Fox Network or simply Fox , is an American commercial broadcasting television network owned by Fox Entertainment Group, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Launched on October 9, 1986, Fox was the highest-rated broadcast network in the...

in the United States. The film credited Hitchcock and Harry Sylvester for the story.

External links