Film: Lifeboat

Lifeboat is a 1944 film starring Tallulah Bankhead and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on a story by John Steinbeck.

The film opens with a ship sinking. Soon a lifeboat appears with one passenger, a rich, snooty newspaper columnist named Connie Porter (Bankhead). Other survivors make their way onto the boat: Kovac (John Hodiak), Stanley (Hume Cronyn), Joe (Canada Lee), and Gus (William Bendix), four of the ship's crew; wealthy industrialist C.J. Rittenhouse (Henry Hull); Alice (Mary Anderson), an Army nurse; and Mrs. Higley (Heather Angel), a war refugee. Finally, they pick up Willy (Walter Slezak), a German who was on the U-boat that sank their ship—the U-boat, it turns out, also sank. Kovac wants to throw Willy into the ocean, but the others prevail on him to do the honorable thing and keep Willy aboard as a prisoner. The passengers aboard the lifeboat then have to struggle to survive on the open ocean, while Willy plays them off each other in an effort to gain control.

Lifeboat took a lot of criticism at the time for making its German villain a strong and intelligent character. It bombed at the box office but still got Alfred Hitchcock an Oscar nomination for Best Director (he didn't win).


This film provides examples of:

  • Amputation Stops Spread: Gus' leg is amputated on the lifeboat to prevent the spread of gangrene.
  • Beta Couple: Stanley and Alice to Connie and Kovac.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Willy can only speak German, with Connie translating—until the storm hits the boat and he starts barking orders in perfect, fluent English.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with a sinking ship.
  • Cassandra Truth: Stanley doesn't believe Gus when he insists Willy has water because he's also been rambling that he's out having drinks and dancing with Rosie.
  • Claustrophobia: Trapped in a lifeboat, with hunger and thirst eating away at the passengers. Willy hoards food and water, which eventually allows him to take charge.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock always did these, but here it proved a challenge. After considering the possibility of playing a corpse floating in the water, he inserted himself into a newspaper read by one of the characters. He's shown in a pair of "Before" and "After" Pictures for a weight-loss advertisement.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Higgins throws herself overboard after realizing her baby has died.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: A baby bottle floats by the boat. Subverted when Connie grabs her camera so she can capture a dramatic Empathy Doll Shot.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Any possibility that Willy might be a good guy is eliminated when, upon the reveal that Mrs. Higgins' baby is dead, he gives a bored yawn and lies down to take a nap.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Willy is cheerful and polite, and sings German folk songs as he rows the boat. He also hides water and food, does not reveal that he has a compass and can speak English, and murders poor Gus after Gus catches him swigging from his hidden water flask.
  • Foreshadowing: Connie starts to film a baby bottle floating in the water. Kovac chastises her for her callousness, asking if she wouldn't rather wait for the baby to float by. When the baby is brought aboard, it's dead.
  • Infant Immortality: Subverted when the baby Mrs. Higgins brings aboard the boat is revealed to be dead.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Connie is a war corespondent who thinks this will all go nicely into her new book.
  • It's All About Me: Kovac gives Connie a review of her writing: it's all about you.
  • Lost at Sea: With little food or water. They try to sail to the island of Bermuda, but Willy deliberately steers them in the other direction, towards a German supply ship.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Willy lies to the others, plays them against each other, and through sheer force of will winds up in charge, rowing them all to the German supply ship and internment.
  • Ocean Madness: Poor Gus starts to lose it when he starts drinking seawater.
  • Pretty in Mink: While all the others had to swim to the lifeboat, Connie got in it before the boat sank, and is decked out in all of her finery, including her mink coat. This provides for a bit of comedy when other passengers climb aboard soaking wet and slick with oil, only to goggle at her.
  • Running Gag: Connie got to the boat before the ship sank, and managed to also bring away her mink coat, her camera, her typewriter, her diamond bracelet, and her luggage. She gradually loses all of her stuff over the course of the film.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Connie and Kovac.
  • Small Secluded World: The entire film takes place on the lifeboat.