Lifeboat

Lifeboat ★★★★

Part of my War Years Challenge

I have a sneaking suspicion I saw this film before ... long, long ago. Walter Slezak's role as the sneaky U-boat captain Willi is unforgettable. But I really didn't clearly remember much else. And to see Tallulah Bankhead as high-society journalist Constance "Connie" Porter should have been unforgettable, too. She manages to get her most prized possessions into the lifeboat when a German submarine sinks the steamer she was on, but then she loses them to the sea one by one, as if being stripped of her worldly persona a layer at a time until the woman at the core is revealed.

The other seven persons who share the lifeboat have well-developed characters, too. There's William Bendix as the blue-collar merchant marine who loves to dance and pines for his "Rosie" in New Jersey. Henry Hull plays the well-bred industrialist Charles S. Rittenhouse, Mary Anderson is the emotionally uptight army nurse Alice MacKenzie, and Canada Lee plays the ship's steward (and token person of color) George "Joe" Spencer. Heather Angel is Mrs. Higgins, whose baby doesn't survive the sinking, Hume Cronyn is able seaman Stanley "Sparks" Garett, and taking command of the tiny vessel is John Hodiak as the tattooed tough guy from the boiler room, John Kovac.

I was wondering how director Alfred Hitchcock would be able to make his customary cameo appearance on the boat, and sure enough he's there, albeit in a different medium under a unique guise (hint: think "weight loss"). Perhaps my favorite two scenes from the film were Joe's stirring recitation of Psalm 23:4 and Ritt's losing poker hand with four deuces. Yet each and every scene demonstrates how even more difficult than surviving the German attack and the elements was surviving themselves. Not everyone does.

John Steinbeck's story earned an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, while Glen MacWilliams gained one for Best Cinematography, B&W. Hitch got his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director (after "Rebecca"), but lost out to Leo McCarey ("Going My Way") in a tight wartime field of excellent filmmakers, including Billy Wilder ("Double Indemnity"), Otto Preminger ("Laura") and Henry King ("Wilson").

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