Film #2 in the World War II Marathon!
Screenplay By: Ben Hecht & Jo Swerling
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
I remember reading once that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make allegorical movies. Yet, as time goes by I realize that statement is categorically wrong, he likes allegories as much as the next guy. Whoever asserted he doesn’t use allegories was in the wrong big time, I believe it may have been I who asserted that notion if you don’t get that already. Lifeboat can be viewed as a suspense story, but it also contains an allegory about the flighty nature of mankind. The story starts with all our characters in a certain place, actions taken move them forward, cause them to shed their standard way of thinking, yet at the end when faced with rescue they fall back into their old habits. Willy caused them to change the way they initially thought, but when faced with another German, that change is gone, in its stead is the same old thought process, us or them based on nationality, not the individual.
The idea behind Lifeboat has its perils. The idea of a film restricted to one small area and one tiny group of characters for its entire run time doesn’t exactly set the world on fire with story ideas. That’s why Lifeboat is the perfect vehicle for Alfred Hitchcock, he understood how the story didn’t need to be about the limits of their location or the small number of characters, but about the characters themselves and what their limited surroundings and partnerships bring out in them, good and bad. Their is also the constant suspense that their situation generates, not only the question of if they will be rescued, but the introduction of Willy, the injury to Gus and the calamities that the sea brings to them.
There were times when Tallulah Bankhead went overboard, oh I am bad with the puns, in displaying emotions. I also felt there were too many wallflower type characters in the bunch, and that while some characters were fleshed out, others were left alone for the most part and that leaves them feeling more like pieces being moved on a chess board than actual characters. However, the interactions between the characters that were fleshed out provided plenty to chew on, both in an allegorical sense and in an emotional sense.
I’ve always had a problem with Hitchcock’s attempts at superimposing characters over a prefabricated background, but I can finally say that in Lifeboat Hitchcock got it right. This is the first film I have seen of his where he employs that technique and it hasn’t looked fake or taken me out of the film. Also impressive was the lack of music, the film is pushed along by the sound of the ocean or the change between the sun and the moon and by the emotions of the characters. Maybe music would have worked, but I enjoyed the feeling that lack of music brought to the picture.
Lifeboat won’t go down as one of Hitchcock’s greats, but that’s more due to the greatness of Hitchcock’s catalog, because Lifeboat is a great film. It’s a stark and to the point film that also carries some heavy meaning behind its directness. It’s also interesting that when it was released it wasn’t thought that highly of for its portrayal of Willy as smarter than the rest of the boats inhabitants. Of course, this had nothing to do with him being a smart man and a Captain and everything to do with him being a Nazi. Regardless, Lifeboat is a forgotten Hitchcock, at least I know I never hear it talked about when in discussions about the director, and a Hitchcock that more people need to see or rediscover.