the fragile edges of a tiny vessel

Film As I greet each Hitchcock film, my admiration for his work increases. Everyone talks about the various motifs of the director (here’s a big long list of them ) but for me, it all boils down simply to a willingness to work outside of the norm, to flout expectations, and above all to experiment. Having tackled the lead up to conflict in The Lady Vanishes and Foreign Correspondent, Hitch could have tried his hand at a stereotypical war film, a genre-rich re-enactment of a fight against the odds. Instead, in Lifeboat, he plays out the war within the fragile edges of a tiny vessel, of civilians buffeted by events beyond their control.

A pleasure cruise is torpedoed and the survivors gather together on a lifeboat, drifting in a seemingly endless ocean awaiting rescue. A propaganda element is injected when a survivor from the U-boat (which was destroyed in the skirmish) is pulled on to the life-raft and we watch the rag tag group first reject then accept his presence, before, predictably he repays their ‘misplaced’ trust. It’s the stuff of the later indie movement, a bunch of strangers collected in a room (or in this case a boat), and on reflection the Cube trilogy is a near remake. They live, they die, they fall in love, they argue and all within a confined space.

For my sins, I’ve not encountered Tallulah Bankhead who plays the temporary matriarch Constance "Connie" Porter before; it’s fairly understandable since she was mostly known as a stage actress and mired by controversy about her private life for much of her career which mitigated against film roles. It’s said that Bette Davies took some inspiration from her, but for my money she’s more like a younger, aristocratic Susan Sarandon, that ability to be earthy yet still rise above. The rest of the cast are a mix of Hitch’s repertory and as ever they’re impeccably chosen, especially Walter Slezak whose generally placid, good natured demeanour, counters expectations and continues Hitch’s theme that the enemy is just like us.

What stops the film from becoming stagey – a risk since the whole piece has been filmed on a sound stage – is Hitch’s use of close-ups and editing which at times reveals information to us and only some crew members, suspense created then in their ability to communicate the discovery to the rest of the crew. We’re also never given an establishing shot of the whole boat; we’re constantly on-board the vessel, never given respite from the intoxicating grimness that pervades the scene. Which isn’t to say there are lighter moments, but this is the blackest of comedies.

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