Sunday, April 17, 2011
John Steinbeck wrote the story that Lifeboat is based on, and it shows. Hitchcock directed the film, but the only real aspect that reflects his style and interests is the task of making a movie set entirely on a small little boat. The real pleasure of the movie is the characters and the themes, which are so clearly from Steinbeck's mind that it's hard to really look at this as a Hitchcock film. Hitchcock isn't playing the audience like he usually does. This is a movie that succeeds because of the drama, which is a testament of Steinbeck's unique and somewhat pessimistic understanding human nature. A war drama, Lifeboat centers on a group of survivors trying to stay alive at sea with barely enough supplies for one person, let alone a whole group. When it turns out that one of the survivors is a nazi, questions of order amidst chaos arise. The Americans of course hate the nazi and wish to kill him. But would that be the American way? And shouldn't there be government in any situation? Would killing the nazi be a reflection of the hatred that sits beneath man, regardless of his race, class, or country? What about conscience? No one would really have to know that these Americans killed a nazi. But when the Americans look back at how unjustly the nazis treated others, they would not be able to do so without thinking that in a much smaller instance they have done the same. Lifeboat is full of complexities of the heart and one of the most philosophical of hitchcock's films. It doesn't stress the issue of survival as it does the issue of morality. Still, give the film props for showing how the the lack of food and drink affect the survivors and their rationale. And Hitchcock does a nice job of balancing the various characters out, never focusing on one more than another. And through all this it can be easy to overlook the great performances Hitchcock gets from William Bendix, Tallulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, and Canada Lee. Though the movie is pretty much without flaws, it's difficult to call it one of Hitchcock's best just because it's so far off the track on which he tends to operate. Maybe it's better to look at it as the best of the John Steinbeck adaptations.