Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

LIFEBOAT


LIFEBOAT (1944). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

The survivors of a freighter that was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat discover that the German they have on board was actually the captain of the submarine that not only destroyed the freighter but ordered the lifeboats shelled. Despite this, he manages to take over the ship until ... Absorbing Hitchcock suspense film has plenty of both dramatic and thrilling episodes, and despite its one location is quite cinematic for the most part. Walter Slezak does not play a cartoon Nazi spitting out "schwein!" all the time but one who is fairly ingratiating and therefore more troubling. Among some powerful and moving sequences in the film one that stands out the most has a young mother (Heather Angel) who's lost her baby, awakening with her hands still "holding " the missing infant. Although Tallulah Bankhead nearly steals the show as reporter Connie Porter [first seen in the lifeboat in her mink], the entire cast is excellent, including Slezak, Angel, William Bendix as a poor sap who loses his leg; Mary Anderson as a nurse; John Hodiak as the commanding Kovac; Henry Hull as the wealthy Rittenhouse; Canada Lee as Gus; and Hume Cronyn as Sparks. [Hull was the Werewolf of London years before.] The movie has many lovely and interesting touches throughout. Characterizations and dialogue in Jo Swerling's screenplay [apparently taken from a story idea or treatment by John Steinbeck] are excellent. You could quibble that there's too much talking and card-playing, that there's not enough of a reaction to the realization that Slezak was the captain of the U-boat [although Hitchcock may have been saving the fireworks for a later moment], but essentially this is a fine and fascinating classic. Great ending.

Verdict: Strong stuff. ***1/2.

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