Classic Film Guide

Lifeboat (1944)

Alfred Hitchcock received his second of five unrewarded Best Director Academy Award nominations for this creative war drama that was written by John Steinbeck, who earned his first (of three unrewarded) Best Writing Oscar nomination for his Original Story. Glen MacWilliams received his only Academy recognition when his B&W Cinematography was Oscar nominated. Jo Swerling (The Pride of the Yankees (1942)) wrote the film's screenplay.

The director's mastery of his craft in on full display; he challenged himself by assembling a great cast of actors to play characters from various backgrounds with differing political points of view about World War II etc. and placed them in a very limiting environment, the titled boat. Their ship had been blown out of the water by the Nazi's, and international journalist Constance ‘Connie’ Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) is the first to find herself safely aboard the lifeboat; she's dressed in her best jewelry and clothing and has managed to garner her most prized possessions on-board, which she loses one by one during the course of the movie. She's soon joined by millionaire industrialist Charles ‘Ritt’ Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), working class crew member John Kovac (John Kodiak), sailor Gus Smith (William Bendix) whose leg later has to be amputated, a Black steward named George ‘Joe’ Spencer (Canada Lee), a radio operator named Stanley ‘Sparks’ Garrett (Hume Cronyn), who has eyes for nurse Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson), a mother who believes the bundle she holds contains her still alive baby (Heather Angel as Mrs. Higley), and even a German U-boat captain they call Willy (Walter Slezak), who doesn't seem to understand their English language but has the ability to manage the boat. Of course, the ‘passengers’ debate whether to kill their enemy or not, especially as they get hungry and thirsty as the food and water run out, yet Willy seems to be doing fine rowing (and navigating the direction of) the boat. An odd couple sort of attraction develops between the rich businesswoman, Connie, and the rugged ‘commie’, Kovac.

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