Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joel Steinbeck (story), Jo Swerling (screenplay)
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, Henry Hull, Hume Cronyn, Canada Lee
IMDb 7.8/10 Rotten Tomatoes 91% Metacritic 78/100
NOTE: This is a clip from the film itself, not an actual trailer. I was unable to find a suitable trailer so, this is the substitute.
I have been wanting to get the review of this movie up for quite a while now. This is one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films. It is also one of his most underrated films. There are so many aspects of this film that make it unique, I really think Hitchcock was ahead of the times.
In this film, we have a group of people stranded in the middle of the ocean in a lifeboat (hence the name of the film). This group is a group of Americans (at least that’s what it seems). I’m not quite sure how these particular people ended up in this particular lifeboat but, that doesn’t even matter. What does matter is that they are stranded in the ocean during WWII. And as they start to regain their composure, they come across a man in the water, needing help. Now, as good samaritans they pull this man into the lifeboat…and realize he’s German.
Okay, quick break. You gotta remember that we are in the height of World War II. Any movie that is portraying the Axis and Allies, in the eyes of Americans at the time, should make the Axis, specifically the Germans, look like savage animals and the Allies are to look like saints. It’s a ridiculous mindset, an arrogant one too, if you ask me. Which I know no one did so, echhumm, moving on.
So, now there’s a bunch of “good guys’ in a lifeboat and they just saved a “bad guy’. Immediately, they want to kill him, or at the very least throw him back overboard. They have very limited supplies, no way of communication with the rest of the world and the rough seas to contend with. And time. Nothing but time.
As we go through the film, we watch the unraveling of humanity, the slow deterioration of civility on warp speed and the toll such a situation can bring on a group of average people.
This is an amazing story of human behavior. Especially when there is no law at sea. No police or courts or judges. No one to regulate anything. Just a bunch a people left to their own devices. And it gets sketchy, particularly when lives are at stake.
As rations and supplies start to run out, as thirst and hunger start setting and as fear coats everything in a dark sense of foreboding, these people start to learn just how little truly sets humans apart from other animals.
The first unique thing about this film is that the whole film takes place on a lifeboat. The whole film in one setting. That was unheard of at the time. And can you imagine the pressure to make a great psychological thriller with nothing but your cast and a lifeboat? I mean, you have no corners to hide things around, no creepy buildings or woods, no hidden monster or killer. Just exactly what you see on the screen.
The other thing is that, other than the music that plays for the beginning and ending credits, there is no musical score for this film. Another technique not widely used for thrillers. Music is almost a staple in horror because it helps lead up to the scare scenes. But in this film, Hitchcock opts only for the voice of the German as he sings and rows the lifeboat and the little wooden flute played by shipmates in the lifeboat to accompany him.
Now, there were some mixed feelings about this movie when it came out although the modern critics love it. But originally, it was thought that the Axis were made to look like good and decent people and the Allies were made to look like barbarians. Also, there was a little controversy over the character Joe Spencer. He is the only African-American in the film and the critics said the portrayal of the black man was too stereotypical. I’m sure this had something to do with the fact that it’s mentioned that Joe used to pick pockets. None of the critics took into consideration that Joe was well spoken, articulate, a family man, no longer a criminal, had a regular job. Hell, he could have been any ethnicity. I think they were reading too far into things at the time but, again, that’s just my opinion.
There was an underlying political tone to the film. While the allies are all fighting amongst themselves and losing site of the mutual goal, the bad guy comes right in underneath your nose and assimilates himself among you. Then, before you know it, you’re getting played from the inside and at war with each other instead of the common enemy.
The critics did praise the acting, directing and cinematography and was nominated for three Oscars, Best Director, Best Story and Best Cinematography.
Like I said at the beginning of this, this film is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. In all honesty, I didn’t think too much of it the first time I saw it. I was coming off of Psycho and The Birds and thought this would be similar. But this was different so it took an extra time or two watching it to really appreciate it for what it is…a classic.