Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 96 mins
Lifeboat is an American film about a group of people who make their way onto a lifeboat after their submarine is sunk, but must share the craft with the German U-boat captain who brought them down in the first place.
Undoubtedly an underrated gem of the legendary director’s filmography, Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat combines uneasy tension with gripping drama, all played out over the course of an hour and a half on a small boat, and nothing else.
Though it may seem like this sort of small-scale, one-location premise is Hitchcock’s bag, Lifeboat is actually one of the few films from the Master of Suspense that remain so contained. However, despite the sprawling nature of so many of the director’s classics, many of his films actually rely on more contained ideas and themes.
And that’s why Lifeboat works so well, as Hitchcock is able to bring his trademark brand of suspense, drama and intrigue to the table while upping the ante by using such a strikingly small setting. The boat isn’t claustrophobic as such – the wide open ocean in the background prevents that – but the tensions and arguments that unfold on board are what make this film a powerfully uneasy watch.
Beyond Hitchcock’s gripping atmosphere of tension and some genuinely impressive cinematography and production design, it’s the performances that really bring the suspense and uncomfortable drama to life here.
Featuring an ensemble cast composed of a number of strong characters, each of the performances here is memorable and plays a big part in establishing the dysfunctional dynamic on board the boat.
The complication of a number of Allied citizens finding themselves having to share the rescue craft with one German sailor is just the tip of the iceberg, as it contributes to a small community of almost wild, savage nature that sees the characters begin to turn on one another just as they turn on their common enemy.
The intensity of the characters’ increasingly complex relationships with one another is bolstered by a collection of strong-willed performances, particularly from Tallulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak and John Hodiak.
The group’s dynamic works brilliantly throughout, and makes for riveting viewing, but it’s the strength of those individual performances that really stands out, and really brings home that tension and dramatic intrigue Hitchcock is aiming for.
As a result, Lifeboat proves a thoroughly engrossing watch, with a brilliant blend of classic Hitchcockian tension and gripping dramatic intrigue, bolstered by a striking atmosphere of unease, strong cinematic style and a fantastic ensemble cast, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.