You may remember I spent much of the fall watching Hitchcock movies for the R.I.P. Challenge. Today I have another one that I never got to a review of during the challenge: Lifeboat, from 1944, about the survivors of a German u-boat attack, trapped in a lifeboat together with one German soldier.
I realized over the course of my Hitchcock kick that my favorites where the ones “in which nothing happens,” and this seemed like another good rewatch for that goal. I figured–how much can happen in a lifeboat?
Although the external crises are certainly an impetus to the story, mostly this is about nine people stuck together and how they react off each other and the circumstances. Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) is the most striking; a wealthy journalist, she arrived on the lifeboat with her fur coat, jewelry, camera and luggage, but gradually loses everything–and gains some heart–as the movie goes on. Alice (Mary Anderson) also has an interesting story, as she was en route to London to be a nurse–and to meet a man she had previously carried on an affair with. A married man, and for 1944, I’m surprised the censors let that plot element in!
I think I was most fascinated, though, by the German soldier, Willy (Walter Slezak). The whole movie I wondered where it was going to go with him, because there were moments when it seemed to me he could be played from a sympathetic angle. A complicated sympathetic angle, considering we know all along that he shelled the original boat, and is now deceiving the survivors about certain things like their heading. But for most of the movie, I could still see where he was coming from too. He was acting as part of a war, and he’s now in a very precarious position among a group of British and Americans. And I can’t really blame him for hoping to find the German supply ship in the area, rather than striking off for the very distant Bahamas.
However…the movie was made in 1944, so I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that Willy does not ultimately turn out to be a good guy. It’s too bad, because I feel like he could have been a complex character and morphed instead into an almost caricature villain. He was a villain not because there was a good in-movie reason for it, but because of the climate of when the movie was made. It’s hard to present a sympathetic Nazi soldier now; I’m sure it was impossible in 1944.
Of all of the Hitchcock movies I watched recently, Lifeboat is the only one I’d particularly like to see a remake of. I’d be very curious to see how Willy’s character could be done now, almost 70 years after the war ended. Although on the other hand, the blood and the horror of it all, so discreet under Hitchcock, would probably be so awful in a modern movie that it wouldn’t be worth it!
Buy it here: Lifeboat