Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lifeboat 1944

Hitchcock, 95m, script by John Steinbeck

The pre-1950 Hitchcock is perhaps better than the more acclaimed director of the 50s. The sixties show a clear decline of power. The later movies, notably Vertigo, seem to have layers of complexity and meaning in their exploration of the psychic darklands, but the earlier films show us the man doing what after all he is best at--dramas which grip us from end to end, with meticulously constructed yarns of fear, adventure, crime and mystery. This one is arguably the best of them all, and gained recognition with a number of academy awards.

The movie opens with a dramatic shot of a sinking ship, as the smoke-stack tilts and is swallowed up by the sea. Both the allied ship and the German submarine which torpedoed it have gone down and a lifeboat drifts away with a sole occupant, American journalist Constance Porter. One by one the boat is populated as other survivors clamber in from the sea to complete the cast of characters. They include a wealthy industrialist, a nurse, a mother with a sick child, a man with a seriously injured leg which requires amputation, and a German who turns out to be the captain of the sunk submarine. Rations are running low and apparently there is no compass to find the way to Bermuda.

This is certainly material for a gripping drama with the background of the surging sea and Hitchcock fully exploits the possibilities. The story steps up the ladder of events with the unexpected at every turn of its short duration and the behavior of the characters is logically consistent with the perilous situation--death in the form of the ocean all to eager to swallow up friend and foe, equalizing differences of rank, education, color and status. And another angry sea in the shape of a war rages beyond the horizon.

This gripping drama on a rocking watery stage made right in the middle of the war is courageously free of the jingoism which one might have expected in 1944.


litdreamer said...

I wonder if it's a bit like Stephen Krane's "The Open Boat," in which a death randomly occurs, because sometimes, deciding who survives and who doesn't is pure chance.

S. M. Rana said...


Somewhat. Crane's story, as I remember, is about endurance. I recall the opening sentence, about the boat passenger's not knowing the color of the sky, and seeing nothing but the waves clambering atop the boat. Hitchcock's film is a racy, rapidly developing drama which retains you in it's grip from A to Z.