John Hodiak and Tallulah Bankhead in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.
Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive
Lifeboat opens with the fog over the North Atlantic parting and a solitary Connie Porter (Talluah Bankhead) appearing in a lifeboat – the setting for the remainder of the film.
Following an attack on a civilian ship by a German U-Boat, drifting survivors (a woman with a baby, ship-hands, an industrialist, an unknown foreigner) one by one start to fill the boat.
What follows is a tightly wound claustrophobic drama of conspiracy, deception and mistrust amid the backdrop of the second world war.
Hitchcock’s cameo appearance is an image on a newspaper drifting past the lifeboat after the ship goes down
Although it was Hitchcock who conceived the film’s central idea, it was John Steinbeck who, at the director’s request, expanded and moulded the story into the tale that was filmed.
However, Steinbeck took exception to the negative portrayal of some of his characters and requested that his name be removed from the film completely (a request ignored by Fox).
The story of how the survivors fare with an enemy among them makes for tense and gripping viewing – see in particular the suicide of one of the survivors (William Bendix in a stunning role} and the deliberate drowning of another in order to conceal a secret.
It’s this tension that draws you into the film, and asks you to question yourself: what would you do if placed in that situation?