Lifeboat

Lifeboat ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

One of my 1000 recommended films.

*Reviewed in 2004*

A wartime drama from Alfred Hitchcock, 'Lifeboat' is notable for the following reasons: it takes place in just one setting throughout, the 'lifeboat' of the title; it marked the return to movies of the husky-voiced, 40-something, Tallulah Bankhead, after years on Broadway, playing a hard-bitten journalist whose preoccupations are make-up, getting a good story, and getting what she wants; and it is filmed largely in close-up, adding to the claustrophobia of the small space in which the shipwrecked survivors and the Nazi captain of the U-Boat which sunk them find themselves.

Tallulah Bankhead's forceful screen presence makes her character the nominal focus of the piece, right from the first time we see her, immaculate and alone in the boat. Whether she's lusting after the resident bit of rough (hot-headed crewman Kovac, played by the gorgeous John Hodiak), sparring with the German captain (good but limited performance from Walter Slezak), or needling the factory owning millionaire (Henry Hull), your eye is drawn to her. However, everyone in the movie gets their chance to shine (Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, William Bendix, Canada Lee, and briefly, Heather Angel as a bereaved mother).

My favourite bits in this engaging movie include Bankhead's flirty writing of her initials in lipstick on Hodiak's chest alongside the tattooed initials of his previous conquests; Bendix's dreamy recollections of his dancing days with his girl; Lee's flute playing; Bankhead deciding to give up her bracelet for the good of her fellow survivors (and to help her get what she's after?) and Cronyn unpicking the ribbon from Anderson's hair and realising he is in love with her. The scene where the German is eventually attacked and killed, however, seems contrived. The camera pulls back and we're detached from the characters we've been close to until then.

Not seen often enough these days, this 60-year old movie is one of Hitch's best. It also represents career best performances for many of its talented cast.

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