Lifeboat (1944 with Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix)


USA / 1944

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Jo Swerling from a John Steinbeck story

Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak

Hitchcock’s Oscar nominated wartime classic fulfilled his ambition to, “make a whole film in a phone booth.” The whole movie was shot on one set, the lifeboat in which the survivors of a torpedoed liner find themselves, along with the captain of the German U-boat (Walter Slezak) that sunk them.

The dramatic tension comes from the captain’s attempts to steer them towards the German supply ship but any film featuring Tallulah Bankhead, this time playing a jaded socialite who mellows through the ordeal, is un-missable.

When the film opened, Hitchcock was criticised for making the captain more organised and almost more sympathetic than the other passengers but as he was to explain in an interview with Francois Truffaut, “We wanted to show that there were two world forces facing each other, the democracies and the Nazis and while the democracies were disorganised, the Germans were heading in the same direction. So here was a statement telling the democracies to put aside their differences and gather their forces to concentrate on the common enemy.”

Hitchcock had to exert considerable ingenuity to make his now traditional cameo appearance. Rejecting the notion of being a corpse in the water, he hit on the idea of being in a before-and-after slimming ad in the newspaper one of the crew is seen reading in the boat, an idea that appealed since he’d recently slimmed from 20 to 13 stone.