Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Pelastusvene / Livbåt / Naufragos. US © 1944 Twentieth Century-Fox. P: Kenneth MacGowan. D: Alfred Hitchcock. SC: Jo Swerling – based on a novella by John Steinbeck (unpublished, written on the request of Alfred Hitchcock for Twentieth Century-Fox). DP: Glen MacWilliams. AD: James Basevi, Maurice Ransford. FX: Fred Sersen, Edwin Hammeras. Cost: René Hubert. Makeup: Guy Pearce. S: Bernard Freericks, Roger Herman, Sr. M: Hugo W. Friedhofer (opening and ending credits only; no score music during the narrative). Songs: "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" perf. Canada Lee (flute), William Bendix (voc); "Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen" perf. Canada Lee (flute), Walter Slezak (voc); "Heidenröslein" (Franz Schubert, J. W. von Goethe), perf. Henry Hull (flute), Walter Slezak (voc); "Treue Liebe" perf. Henry Hull (flute), Walter Slezak (voc); Die Meistersinger: Preislied (Richard Wagner). ED: Dorothy Spencer. C: Tallulah Bankhead (Constance "Connie" Porter, columnist), William Bendix (Gus Smith / Schmidt, seaman), Walter Slezak (Willy, captain of a German U-Boat, a doctor), Mary Anderson (Alice MacKenzie, nurse), John Hodiak (Kovac, ship engineer), Henry Hull (Charles D. "Ritt" Rittenhouse, millionaire), Heather Angel (Mrs. Higgins, a young English mother), Hume Cronyn (Stanley "Sparks" Garrett, radio operator), Canada Lee (George "Joe" Spencer, steward), William Yetter, Jr. (German sailor), Alfred Hitchcock (the "before and after" figure in the Reduco advertisement).
    Helsinki premiere: 18.3.1945 Capitol, released by: Fox Films – Finnish classification 25588 – K16 – 97 min
    A Classic Films print with Spanish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Alfred Hitchcock), 26 August 2012.

Revisited Alfred Hitchcock's first limited-setting movie (followed by Rope, Dial M for Murder, and Rear Window). I had not seen Lifeboat for a long while. Probably I had only seen it on tv, and seen now as a 35 mm print on screen it had maintained its power to disturb.

Lifeboat is a WWII movie, set in the North Atlantic not far from the Bermudas. A freighter of the Allies and a German U-Boat have sunk in sea battle, and the survivors gather in a lifeboat, all Allies except a German who turns out to be the captain of the U-Boat.

The sky is clouded and only the German Willy who has a hidden compass knows where to go. The question of leadership emerges - there must be a captain who may even have to be a dictator. The seaman Gus is also born German, but "they made me feel ashamed of the name I was born with". His leg is hurt, there is a bad-natured gangrene, and Willy who is a surgeon performs emergency surgery, saving his life once, and again when Willy goes overboard in a storm. Energized by his hidden water flask and food tablets Willy keeps rowing the lifeboat to the direction of a German supply ship, a seeming example of "the master race".

Meanwhile, the Allies are torn by their conflicts, related to money, class, sex, and race. "Do I get to vote, too?" quips Joe, the intelligent and musically talented black steward, the only one who can recite a prayer when the dead baby of Mrs. Higgins is buried. When the Allies turn into a lynch mob who throw Willy overboard Joe is the only one who does not participate.

For the fashionable columnist Connie Porter the experience is a terrible ordeal and a learning process. One by one she loses her camera, her mink coat, her typewriter and her signature bracelet, all the external signs of her status, but her true identity emerges in a more solid way.

Connie Porter as interpreted by Tallulah Bankhead is an interesting Hitchcockian character. Otherwise I have problems of relating to the slightly misanthropic account of the human condition in Lifeboat. But the story is really Hitchcock's way to tell that we must act together or we become easy prey for fascism.

A running joke related to the Connie Porter character is a series of variations on the phrase "some of my best friends are...". Most funnily: "some of my best friends are women". Most ominously: "some of my best friends are in the concentration camp".

The first reel of the print is heavily duped, but the visual quality gets somewhat better.

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