Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lifeboat 1944

If you are curious about the cult of Tullulah Bankhead then this is the movie to see. She made very few films and this Hitchcock movie is without a doubt her best work.  She plays a sophisticated spoiled photojournalist who when the film opens is alone in a lifeboat having just been thrown into the sea after the ship she was on has been torpedoed by a German U boat which has also gone under. Tullulah who is oblivious to what is going on around her sits there in her mink coat, camera and typewriter at the ready and looking like she just stepped out of the Algonquin. She is soon joined by other survivors of the sinking which make up a cross section of society including the very hubba hubba John Hodiak who does most of the film shirtless, Canada Lee, (the only actor who is not pictured on the poster) and is referred to as “charcoal” which made me do a double take (did I really hear right) as the most centered and dignified character in the group along with, Hume Cronyn, Heather Angel, William Bendix, Henry Hull and Mary Anderson. Also fished out of the ocean is Walter Slezak who plays the German captain of the U boat and is naturally the villain of the film. The movie is based on a story by John Steinbeck who it is said was not happy with the film, indeed many critics weren’t either some of whom stupidly accused Hitchcock of being sympathetic to the Nazi’s because of the strong image that Slezak projects and this of course was rubbish but it did affect the box office of the film. This is a tight space of a movie, and maybe some would say a gimmicky one what with the entire film taking place in a lifeboat.  Soon the tenuous community starts to fall apart with layers of their personalities landing on the bottom of the little tub. Friendships and indeed lover relationships are formed, but there are also fights and arguments among the group. There are also many crisis that one would expect in this type of dire situation and some unexpected ones, amputatations, the death of a child, storms, lack of food and water and mistrust especially of the Slezak character who meets a terrible but just and predicable fate. This is hardly a deep film too many stereotypes and expected results but its a fascinating relic from the war years and hey its still Hitchcock and there is Tullulah who transforms from hoity toity to just one of the regular folks calling everyone darling this and darling  that thus adding to her myth and giving comedians material for years to come. Surprisingly she won the respected New York Film Critics award that year for best actress.


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