Hitchcock liked to claim that, once he’d planned a film, he found the actual shooting of it boring.
Which is maybe why he enjoyed setting himself technical challenges – shooting a movie in one seemingly unbroken take (Rope), from one fixed position (Rear Window), or, as here, almost entirely within a 20-foot lifeboat.
Lifeboat qualifies as Hitch’s only war movie. In the Atlantic, a passenger liner’s been sunk; the U-boat also went down. An ill-assorted batch of survivors scramble aboard a lifeboat. They’re joined by a sole survivor from the sub, eventually revealed to be its captain.
While the Yanks and the Brits squabble among themselves, the German’s the only one with a clear purpose – and the cunning to carry it out...
Co-scripted by John Steinbeck, the film’s a clear allegory: if the Allies don’t pull together, single-minded Germany may win.
Amazingly, it was attacked by some reviewers as Nazi propaganda.
Today it all seems a bit schematic and preachy – but it’s well worth a gander for Hitch’s inventiveness in devising varied camera angles in his confined space; for Walter Slezak’s urbane performance as the U-boat skipper; and for Tallulah Bankhead, sheer class as a mink-clad roving reporter.
(Hearing complaints that Bankhead was going commando, Hitch responded, “Hmm, I’m not sure if that comes under costume or hairdressing.”)
Generous extras include two fascinating items: the French-language propaganda shorts Hitch shot in Britain to support the Free French. Oh, and in the main feature, keep an eagle eye out for Hitch’s ingenious way of including his indispensable personal cameo.