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A Cast-Away Presentation
at Friday Night Movies:


Friday the 15th of August

What happens when six men and three women are alone in an open boat -- against the sea and each other?
--Original tagline


USA: 1944 -- Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by John Steinbeck (story), Jo Swerling & Ben Hecht (screenplay)
Starring Talullah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak & John Hodiak

We're not like you! You're made of iron, we're just flesh and blood! Hungry and thirsty flesh and blood!
--Tallulah Bankhead as Connie Porter

Part mystery, part wartime polemic, Lifeboat finds director Alfred Hitchcock tackling a cinematic challenge that foreshadows the self-imposed handicaps of Rope and Rear Window. As with those subsequent features, Hitchcock confines his action and characters to a single set, in this instance the lone surviving lifeboat from an Allied freighter sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. A less confident, ingenious filmmaker might have opened up John Steinbeck's dialogue-driven character study beyond the battered boat and its cargo of survivors, but Hitchcock instead revels in his predicament to exploit the enforced intimacy between his characters.

Indeed, we never actually see the doomed freighter--the smoking ship's funnel beneath the credits simply sinks beneath the waves, and we're plunged into the escalating tensions between those who gradually find their way to the boat, a band of eight English and American passengers and crew, plus a German sailor (Walter Slezak) rescued from the U-boat, itself destroyed by the freighter's deck gun. Heading the cast and inevitably commanding their and our attention is the cello-voiced Tallulah Bankhead as Connie Porter, a cynical, sophisticated writer whose priorities seem to be hanging onto her mink and keeping her lipstick fresh. Gradually, the others find Porter and her lifeboat, forming a temporary community that inevitably suggests a careful cross section of archetypes, from wealthy industrialist (Henry Hull) to ship's boiler men (John Hodiak and William Bendix).

Hitchcock juggles the interpersonal skirmishes between the boat's occupants with the mystery of their German prisoner, which itself becomes a meditation on the fine line between nationalism and morality, a line that Slezak walks delicately until his identity is resolved. Visually, Hitchcock transforms his back-lot set and its rear-projected cloudbanks into a desolate stretch of ocean, while capturing the horror of an amputation through an economical set of images culminating in an empty boot. --Sam Sutherland

Hope to see you there. I'll save you an aisle seat and a floatation device.


Nominated for Oscars for Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock) & Best Writing, Original Story (John Steinbeck)

Won New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress (Tallulah Bankhead)

More awards

Memorable Quotes

Gus Smith: My name is Schmidt, but I changed it to Smith. That's what I got against these guys more than anything else. They make me ashamed of the name I was born with. I got a lot of relatives in Germany. For all I know this guy may be one of them. I say throw him to the sharks!

Willy: [fixing diamond bracelet] Looks like bits of ice. They're really nothing but a few pieces of carbon crystallized under high pressure at great heat.
Connie Porter: Like tears, for instance. They're nothing but H2O with a trace of sodium chloride.

More quotes


Seasickness hit the entire cast at one point or another, and much of the cast caught pneumonia after constant exposure to cold water, Tallulah Bankhead having suffered twice from it. Hume Cronyn almost drowned in a storm scene when he got caught under a large metal water-activator, used for making waves. Joe Peterson, a lifeguard hired especially for the production, saved him in the nick of time. Hume Cronyn also suffered from cracked ribs during the course of filming.

During filming, several of the crew members noted that actress Tallulah Bankhead was not wearing underwear. When advised of this situation, director Alfred Hitchcock observed, "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing."

Tallulah Bankhead was cast in the film because Alfred Hitchcock wanted to use "the most oblique, incongruous person imaginable in such a situation". She was Hitchcock's first choice for the role of Constance 'Connie' Porter.

John Steinbeck wrote the story at Hitchcock's request. Steinbeck, a noted liberal, was outraged by what he regarded as director Alfred Hitchcock's racism as manifested in his condescension towards the George 'Joe' Spencer character played by Canada Lee.

More trivia


Revealing mistakes: When Talulah offers to use her diamond bracelet as a fishing lure, the fish that swallows it is a carp, a fresh water fish, which would be unlikely to strike at a flashy lure anyway since it is a toothless herbivore.

Continuity: When Gus is chugging brandy, the amount in the bottle remains the same and does not go down.

Audio/visual unsynchronized: After the operation on Gus's leg, the group is playing cards. The sound is the same audio from the card game earlier in the film. Ritt stays. Kovac takes three cards. You can see when Kovac supposedly says, "Three cards," his lips don't move at all.

More goofs