Damn it’s been a long time since I scratched a new Hitchcock off of the watchlist! One of the things I love about Hitch is his desire to constantly challenge himself. You get the feeling he thrived off of giving himself as many restrictions as possible and seeing if he could still rise to the occasion creatively. Well, you don’t get any more restricted than setting your movie on a damn lifeboat!
Based on a scenario by the great John Steinbeck, Lifeboat manages to tackle a lot of complex topics which were pretty controversial at the time of release. Released at the pinnacle of WWII, the film looks at the relationship between America and Germany at the time and rather boldly paints the American and British characters as the blood thirsty brutes. Critics accused Hitchcock of being a traitor and supporting the enemy but, of-course, the film is not that at all. It’s quite brilliant in the way it handles it’s themes but still a touch heavy handed like many of these older films tend to be.
Hitchcock’s technique is blazing and he treats the lifeboat like a stage, shooting it from every angle. No two set-ups are the same and the movie never becomes repetitive visually which is no mean feat. Like all great filmmakers of this period, Hitchcock knew how to tell us everything about a character with a single detail or composition. The film opens on the wreckage of a sunken ship floating in the sea before panning to the lifeboat where we find Tallulah Bankhead looking immaculate. What does she do? Look at a ladder in her tights and let out an irritated sigh. That’s how you introduce a character!
Not necessarily top-tier Hitchcock but a sterling showcase of his talents which, by this point in his career, were firing on all cylinders.