Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Lifeboat (1944)

Beefing on Hitchcock

A small group of survivors hope for rescue after an attack that sunk both their ship and the German U-boat which attacked them. Conflict comes about from the varying backgrounds and personalities of the individual cast-aways, especially when they rescue the only surviving crew member of the U-boat, a Nazi soldier. Forced by their own consciences to accept him aboard, the survivors question his every intent while trying to find some faith in their own humanity.

Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 film Lifeboat is a rather unique one, not only for him but for most motion pictures. The story takes place in a singular setting: a lifeboat somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. While other movies, including a few later films of Hitchcock's, have taken place in very limited settings, not many have one and only one setting for the entire film with no cut-away whatsoever to a secondary location.

And while the "bottle" setting alone is quite daring for movies of the time, the story itself takes even more of a risk. Just during the height of World War II, easily the least popular thing to put into cinemas is the thought that the enemy, the Nazis, are merely people too. While the movie clearly doesn't glamorize or cheapen the events of the war, it still very boldly focuses on the concept that an individual is a human being no matter what his or her allegiance.

The cast is phenomenal, primarily surrounding Tallulah Bankhead, this being her first motion picture role in twelve years. In fact, only Hitchcock would think to bring a famous actress out of semi-retirement only to shove her on a small boat and throw water in her face... and she accepts it all beautifully, even championing the film against all the critics upset at the subject matter.

Of course, since the setting of the film made no change, Hitchcock had a bit of difficulty figuring out his famous "walk-on" cameos... eventually deciding to insert himself into a newspaper advertisement for his recent weight loss.

Overall, I'd say this is a pretty decent and enjoyable picture... While not one of his best or most entertaining films, it still stands strong on its own merit and not merely because of its timeless insight on our own humanity. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in classic film, and it's another that I feel would fit the Criterion catalog quite wonderfully.

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