Cast & Crew
As an Allied freighter sails from New York to London, it is attacked by a German submarine. While the freighter's crew retaliates, the submarine shells the passengers as they struggle to board lifeboats. After the battle has ceased and both vessels have been sunk, renowned journalist and cynic Constance Porter is alone in a lifeboat when Kovac, an oiler from the freighter, pulls himself aboard. Kovac accidentally knocks Connie's 16-mm camera overboard while pulling Stanley "Sparks" Garrett, a English radio operator, into the boat, infuriating Connie. Both men then assist Army nurse Alice Mackenzie, wounded seaman Gus Smith and passenger C. J. "Ritt" Rittenhouse into their craft. Connie is glad to see Ritt, a wealthy industrialist who is an old friend. She is also pleased to hear the yell of black steward Joe Spencer, who put her in the lifeboat and is now attempting to rescue Mrs. Higley and her baby. After the others help Joe and Mrs. Higley aboard, Alice discovers that the infant is dead, and Sparks explains that Mrs. Higley is an English shell shock victim who is returning to Bristol. Mrs. Higley does not realize that her baby is dead, and the group's attention is distracted by the arrival of another survivor: a German who does not appear to speak English. Connie translates his declarations that he is an ordinary seaman and is sorry for the attack. Kovac, a Czechoslovakian-American, wants to throw the German overboard, but Gus, a German-American who changed his name from Schmidt to Smith out of shame, insists that a "guy can't help being born who he is." Ritt asserts that they cannot kill the German according to international law, and the majority votes to keep him as a prisoner. Soon after, Joe says a prayer as they bury the baby at sea, and that night, they tie Mrs. Higley to a chair to keep her from committing suicide. The next morning, however, they discover that she has jumped overboard. Ritt tries to cheer the survivors by taking stock of their small store of provisions and organizing jobs for everyone. When Ritt follows the German's advice about setting a course, Kovac accuses him of electing himself captain. Connie tricks the German into revealing his true rank when she calls him Kapitän and he reacts. Although she believes that the German is best qualified to run the lifeboat, Kovac angrily proclaims himself captain and orders them to follow Sparks's course to Bermuda, which is the opposite of the German's. As they sail, Gus's wounded leg becomes infected, and after the German states that he was a surgeon in civilian life, Alice assists as he amputates the leg. Later, having gained their trust, the German, whose name is Willi, tells the others to change direction. Kovac, hoping to save Gus's life, reluctantly accepts Willi's advice. That night, however, as Sparks is at the tiller, the stars show him that they are heading away from Bermuda, not toward it. The next morning, the group urges Joe, a reformed pickpocket, to search Willi, and Joe finds a compass that Willi had secretly been using to steer them toward a German supply ship. Kovac is about to stab the German when a huge storm strikes, and Willi, who reveals that he speaks English, brings the group safely through the storm. At the storm's end, the survivors have lost all of their food and water, and with the boat's mast gone, Willi rows them toward the German ship. Kovac laughs about their "prisoner" taking control, but Willi asserts it is the logical thing to do now that the storm has blown them off course. As time passes, all of the group grow weak except Willi. Despite their suffering, Connie and Kovac become romantically involved, as do Alice and Sparks. Gus's thirst causes him to hallucinate, but one morning, he sees Willi drinking water. Hoping to keep his water supply a secret, Willi pushes Gus overboard, but Gus's weak, drowning cries reach Sparks. After the group realizes that Willi is sweating, which requires hydration, Joe grabs a water flask from Willi's shirt. The flask is broken, and Willi admits that he has been subsisting on hoarded water and energy tables. With their nerves finally broken, Alice leads the others in an attack on Willi. All participate except Joe, who watches with horror and sadness as they beat Willi and force him overboard. Later, the survivors are bemoaning their fate when Connie, who has become less selfish and haughty, yells at them for being quitters. She gives Kovac her diamond bracelet to use as a lure, and he catches a fish with it. Just as they are pulling the fish in though, Joe spots a ship. The ship is the German vessel that Willi was trying to reach, but before it can pick them up, it is attacked by an American warship. The German ship is sunk, and as the group awaits rescue by the Americans, a young German sailor climbs aboard the lifeboat. Swayed by his youth, the women want to save him, but Ritt declares that Germans cannot be treated as human beings. The sailor brandishes a pistol at them, but Joe disarms him. When the youth asks if they are going to kill him, Kovac wonders what can be done with such people, and Connie replies that maybe Mrs. Higley and Gus could answer him.
William Yetter Jr.
Robert Nelson Adrian
Hugo W. Friedhofer
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
R. L. Hough
Frank E. Hughes
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Essentials - Lifeboat
A group of mismatched passengers -- a glamorous newswoman, a millionaire industrialist, a ship's stoker, a nurse and a fiery, liberal seaman among them -- huddle in a lifeboat after their ship is sunk by the Nazis during World War II. Their desperate plight gets tenser when the German captain who torpedoed them swims up to the fragile craft. As his leadership abilities and navigational skills come to the fore, the little boat becomes a microcosm for the war taking place in the outside world, particularly when the German starts trying to commandeer the lifeboat and its passengers for the Third Reich.
CAST AND CREW
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock, Kenneth Macgowan
Screenplay: Jo Swerling
From a story by John Steinbeck
Cinematography: Glen MacWilliams
Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Art Direction: James Basevi, Maurice Ransford
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Tallulah Bankhead (Constance 'Connie' Porter), William Bendix (Gus Smith), Walter Slezak (Willy), Mary Anderson (Alice MacKenzie), John Hodiak (John Kovac), Henry Hull (Charles S. Rittenhouse), Heather Angel (Mrs. Higgins), Hume Cronyn (Stanley 'Sparks' Garrett), Canada Lee (George 'Joe' Spencer)
BW -97 m.
Lifeboat was the first film in which Alfred Hitchcock explored his fascination with filming in a confined setting. As in his later Rope (1948) and Rear Window (1954), he would limit his action to a single set, though neither of those later pictures had as confining a setting as Lifeboat. His solution of the shooting problems this posed was a technical marvel that would influence his use of similar confined spaces for scenes in such later classics as Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).
The film presents a microcosmic look at global attitudes toward the war, providing a clearer reflection of divergent thinking at the time than most Hollywood films. As such, it provides very cogent criticism of how everyone from the wealthy to the working classes stood by and allowed the Nazis to take over Germany and almost conquer the world. It also suggests the only way the free nations could defeat the Axis is to forget their differences and work together.
At Hitchcock's insistence, Lifeboat was one of the few Hollywood films of the '40s released with no musical soundtrack apart from music over the titles. He wanted to intensify the sense of isolation on the boat by having nothing interfere with the sounds of waves and wind. The result is an almost hallucinatory picture that, despite its strong political basis, often seems timeless.
After years of failed films in Hollywood, Tallulah Bankhead returned to screen stardom after 11 years for her one true hit and the only film to truly capture the magic she created on stage. The role of fashion reporter Connie Porter gave her a chance to start out glamorous, with a mink coat and diamond bracelet, and flash her wit in a series of putdowns of her fellow passengers. Then as the lifeboat was struck by storms and internal disputes, she broke down the glamorous façade in a truly riveting performance.
The Essentials - Lifeboat
Pop Culture 101 - Lifeboat
Playwright Sidney Easton sued 20th Century-Fox in 1945 claiming the film had plagiarized his play Life Boat No. 13. He claimed the script had been given to John Steinbeck, who then used the plot and characters in his own novella. During court proceedings, Steinbeck denied ever having seen Easton's script. In addition, screenwriter Jo Swerling stated that he had only read Steinbeck's novella once before writing the screenplay on his own, and studio records documented director Alfred Hitchcock's extensive use of interviews with wartime shipwreck survivors to develop material for the script. Easton finally dropped his suit in return for a one-time payment of $9,000.
Hitchcock directed Bankhead in a one-hour radio version of the film for Screen Director's Playhouse in 1950.
The final shots of the S.S. Claridon sinking inThe Last Voyage (1960) are so similar to the ship sinking at the opening of Lifeboat some critics have suggested the studio simply colorized Hitchcock's original footage.
In 1993, Lifepod translated the film's action into science fiction, with eight passengers surviving the destruction of a space ship. Robert Loggia, Ron Silver (who also directed) and CCH Pounder head the cast.
Pop Culture 101 - Lifeboat
Trivia - Lifeboat - Trivia & Fun Facts About LIFEBOAT
The stormy seas through which the lifeboat sails are stock footage taken off the Florida coast.
With the constant rocking of the boat during filming, most of the cast needed pills to combat seasickness.
The wardrobe department prepared six versions of each costume so that at least one would always be dry when a scene had to be re-shot. Unfortunately, that didn't always work, so at times the actors had to stand in front of the most powerful stage lights trying to dry their costumes before the next shot.
With the action confined to a lifeboat and only the relatively small cast of nine on camera, inserting Hitchcock's customary cameo appearance was a challenge. Since he had recently lost weight, he used full-figured and slimmer shots of himself to create a before and after weight-loss ad in a newspaper William Bendix reads. After the film came out, Hitchcock was deluged with letters from people trying to find Reduco, the product advertised.
When Tallulah Bankhead patiently shot a scene in which she was doused with 5,400 gallons of water, the crew burst into spontaneous applause.
Bankhead was so vehemently anti-German she would only learn her German lines, spoken to the submarine captain played by Walter Slezak, phonetically. She had hired Paula Strasberg, wife of director-actor Lee Strasberg, to travel as her companion/secretary, and Mrs. Strasberg drilled her on the lines until she got the inflections perfectly.
Hitchcock socialized with Bankhead off-screen during filming. She took him to several art galleries and got him started collecting modern art.
On the last day of shooting, Hitchcock presented Bankhead with a Sealyham puppy in appreciation for her professionalism. The puppy was named Hitchcock.
Trivia - Lifeboat - Trivia & Fun Facts About LIFEBOAT
The Big Idea - Lifeboat
At the same time, Zanuck had signed a deal with independent producer David O. Selznick to have Alfred Hitchcock direct two films for the studio during a 40 week period. The director had long dreamed of facing the technical challenges of filming in a single, small setting, at one point considering a film set in a telephone booth. When asked what he wanted to work on, his first suggestion was something set in a confined space, which made Lifeboat a natural choice for him.
Zanuck paid Selznick $300,000 for Hitchcock's services, of which the director got less than half. His extensive loan-outs, with Selznick making a considerable profit off his services, would be a sticking point with Hitchcock and Selznick and lead to the director's moving into independent production when his contract ended.
Hitchcock's first choice to write the story was Ernest Hemingway, but the writer was already obligated to other films.
Hitchcock went through several writers to get the screenplay he wanted. The first, novelist John Steinbeck, felt constricted by the director's demands that the entire film take place in the lifeboat. He turned in a novella based on interviews with seamen who survived submarine attacks and told from the viewpoint of a sailor with leftist leanings. Hitchcock felt the story unusable, so he hired Harry Sylvester to work with Steinbeck on a scenario that would eventually be published in Collier's magazine (November 13, 1943). At that point, Steinbeck left for Europe to cover the war as a correspondent. Hitchcock would later write "Lifeboat was a group story lasting several days and within the narrative [were] a number of sequences. These were well written but I found they were 'no scene' scenes. By this I mean that the little sequence might have a narrative value but in itself is undramatic. It very obviously lacks shape and doesn't have a climax as a scene on the stage might." (Alfred Hitchcock, quoted in Bill Krohn, Hitchcock at Work) Hitchcock then brought in first MacKinlay Kantor and two weeks later Jo Swerling. When he still couldn't get the script he wanted, he rewrote all of the dialogue himself, then hired Ben Hecht, who had also done a final polish on his Foreign Correspondent (1940), to do revisions. Other writers mentioned in Fox's files include Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, actress Patricia Collinge, Albert Mannheimer and Marian Spitzer. Swerling was the only writer credited with the screenplay, with Steinbeck credited with the original story.
The first actor cast in the film was stage star Canada Lee, cast as the black steward Joe. Fox borrowed Hume Cronyn and John Hodiak from MGM and cast their own contract player Mary Anderson, whom they were hoping to develop as a leading lady.
Having failed in her first attempt at film stardom in the early 1930s, Tallulah Bankhead was eager to accept the leading role in a Hitchcock film. She even accepted the relatively low fee of $75,000 for her work, even though she was coming off two big stage hits, The Little Foxes and The Skin of Our Teeth. Her only stipulation was that she never say "Darling," for fear audiences would think she was playing herself. It was her first starring role in a film in 11 years.
Contrary to myth, Hitchcock did not storyboard every one of his films from beginning to end. Many of his most famous storyboards were actually created after the fact for publicity purposes, which helped give rise to the legend. For Lifeboat, however, he did some of his most extensive storyboarding, a necessity when working within the confined space in which the film was set. The director frequently departed from his storyboards for the film to meet specific demands of day-to-day shooting.
The Big Idea - Lifeboat
Behind the Camera - Lifeboat
William Bendix joined the cast a few days into shooting when the original actor cast as Gus, Murray Alper, fell sick. Two weeks into shooting, cinematographer Arthur C. Miller also grew too ill to continue. He was replaced by Glen MacWilliams.
Zanuck's major concern about the film was length. Before production began and during its earliest days, he badgered Hitchcock to cut the film, insisting that he had had the script timed and felt that without cuts it would come in at almost three hours. Hitchcock insisted that whoever was timing the script was wrong and possibly sabotaging the production. He claimed the film would come it at about 90 minutes (it actually ran 97). Since Hitchcock was shooting in sequence, it was fairly easy to cut the film as they went along. As soon as Zanuck saw the first complete reel, he was satisfied and trusted Hitchcock.
To get all the camera angles he needed, Hitchcock actually used four boats for the film. Two were the complete lifeboat. The other two were cut in half, one lengthwise fore to aft and the other from port to starboard.
The film was shot entirely at the studio, with lifeboats set up in two places. One was the studio tank, in which the boat was held in place by a system of underwater wires. There were water chutes on all four sides of the tank, each fed by a tank containing 4,000 gallons of water. For some scenes, however, there was a lifeboat suspended above rollers that duplicated the boat's movements on the waves.
Leading lady Tallulah Bankhead created a stir in Hollywood by refusing to wear underwear, a fact that was readily apparent whenever she hiked her skirts to climb into the lifeboat set. When a female journalist visiting the set complained, Zanuck sent orders that somebody tell her to dress properly. The problem was, nobody wanted to tell the temperamental star to do so. When the unit manager asked Hitchcock for advice, he responded dryly, "I've always tried to be very careful of getting involved in departmental disputes. And in a case like this it's hard to decide where the responsibility lies. You might consider this a matter for the wardrobe department, or perhaps for the makeup people -- or perhaps it's even for hairdressing!" (Hitchcock, quoted in Hume Cronyn, A Terrible Liar: A Memoir) In the end, Zanuck simply ordered the set closed.
To allow for quick changes in composition that would keep the picture visually exciting, Hitchcock kept a clipboard with a legal pad hanging from the camera dolly. Whenever he felt the need for a new composition, he would grab the clipboard, sketch out the image in a square approximating the film frame and hand it to the cameraman.
With so much of the film shot in the studio tank, Hitchcock had a lifeguard stationed out of camera range in case of emergencies. He came in handy when Hume Cronyn fell off the boat and got caught underneath one of the water agitators. The lifeguard saved him from drowning.
That wasn't the only mishap for Cronyn. During the storm at sea, he was supposed to be washed overboard by one wave and washed back on by another. They attempted to use a stunt double, but that wouldn't give Hitchcock the shot he needed. After the crew rehearsed the stunt with the double, Cronyn was wired into a harness that would allow them to pull him off the boat and back on. But since the stunt had been set up for a heavier man, it didn't work quite right. Cronyn was pulled back into the boat so violently he broke two ribs and had to get through the rest of the shoot with them taped up.
The rigors of production took their toll on the entire cast. They were regularly doused with water, shivering in wet costumes and then sweltering under the hot stage lights. By November, Tallulah Bankhead had contracted pneumonia, which shut down production. After three days off, she returned to the set, only to suffer a relapse. With only one shot remaining in the film, she convinced her doctor to send her back to the set immediately.
Bankhead was noted for her fierce political positions, including a vehement hatred of the Axis powers during World War II. Although co-star Walter Slezak was an outspoken critic of the German government, his Austrian background and the Nazi character he played in the film put him firmly in Bankhead's sites, and she insulted him constantly. When Italy surrendered during filming and Slezak expressed the hope that this would bring the war to an early end, Bankhead spat out "I hope they spill every drop of German blood there is. I hate them all! And I HATE YOU!" All he could say was "I'm sorry about that, Tallulah." (Bankhead and Slezak, quoted in Cronyn)
Production finished on November 17, 1943. The final budget was a little over $1.5 million. Hitchcock had spent so much time in story development and production that he never made the second film for which Zanuck had contracted him. Some biographers have suggested he deliberately dragged his feet working on Lifeboat since he made the same weekly salary whether he directed one film for them or two.
When Lifeboat premiered it triggered a major controversy over the depiction of Slezak's German submarine captain as more capable than any of the American characters in the lifeboat. Newspaper columnist Dorothy Thompson famously gave the film "ten days to get out of town" (Dorothy Thompson, quoted in Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock), while New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said that with very little cutting the film could be turned into a piece of Nazi propaganda. The Writers War Board called it "a credo of German super-intelligence and of the degeneracy of the democratic peoples." (Writers War Board, quoted in Joel Loebenthal, Tallulah!: The Life and Times of a Leading Lady) When he read the comments, John Steinbeck was so upset he wired Zanuck demanding his name be removed from the credits.
Although the film did good business in New York and other big cities, it failed to attract audiences in smaller theatres and rural areas. As a result, it was a rare Hitchcock film that actually lost money at the box office.
The film placed tenth on the National Board of Review's annual ten-best list.
Tallulah Bankhead was named Best Actress by the New York Film Critics.
Lifeboat was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Original Story and Best Cinematography.
Behind the Camera - Lifeboat
Critics' Corner - Lifeboat
"Conceded that Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Steinbeck -- plus Jo Swerling, who rigged the script -- have turned out a consistently exciting and technically brilliant drama of the sea....Conceded that all of the performances are extraordinarily fine, especially Tallulah Bankhead's shrewd and brittle playing of the parasite and William Bendix's tough-grained, heart-breaking job as the wounded man. There remains the alarming implication, throughout all the action of this film, that the most efficient and resourceful man in this Lifeboat is the Nazi, the man with 'a plan.' Nor is he an altogether repulsive or invidious type. As Walter Slezak plays him, he is tricky and sometimes brutal, yes, but he is practical, ingenious and basically courageous in his lonely resolve. Some of his careful depictions would be regarded as smart and heroic if they came from an American in the same spot." -- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
"As allegory, the film is nicely knit, extensively shaded and detailed, and often fascinating. But the allegory itself is always too carefully slide-ruled. None of it gives off the crazy, more than ambiguous, nascent-oxygen quality of first-rate allegories....The handling of the cinematic problems is extremely astute, in spite of a smell of studio about most of it. But since too little was ventured of what followed as a logical obligation, out of the root of the idea, it remains an interesting, disappointing demonstration of possibilities at a second or third remove." -- James Agee, The Nation
"The movie starts off in an uncomfortably didactic fashion (John Steinbeck did the original story, and his heavy hand can sometimes be felt), but Lifeboat is actually much more complicated than it first appears. Its emphasis on moral debates in dialogue can seem a little dry, but Hitchcock's shifting sympathies guarantee our guilty involvement with the characters until he builds to a climax of intellectual and spiritual excitation." -- Dan Callahan,
Critics' Corner - Lifeboat
In a word: Wow!- Connie Porter
Dying together's even more personal than living together.- Connie Porter
'Hitchcock, Alfred' called Ben Hecht in to read the final script and to rewrite the ending.
Much of the cast caught pneumonia after constant exposure to cold water.
During filming, several of the crew complained that Tallulah Bankhead was not wearing underwear. This was apparent to them when she climbed in and out of the lifeboat. When told of the situation, director 'Hitchcock, Alfred' replied "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department or the hairdresser."
in "before" and "after" pictures in a newspaper advert for Reduco the Obesity Slayer. The pictures were genuine, as he had just been on a crash diet (although not with the fictional Reduco).
John Kovac's "BM" tattoo.
After she caught pneumonia, Tallulah Bankhead was given a puppy by 'Hitchcock, Alfred' for being such a good sport during the film. He had already named the dog Hitchcock.
The film's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox Presents Alfred Hitchcock's Production of Lifeboat By John Steinbeck." According to a November 16, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, Twentieth Century-Fox obtained Hitchcock's directorial services in a deal whereby the studio purchased from David O. Selznick the rights to three story properties and the services of several actors and technicians. The news item stated that Hitchcock would direct two films for Twentieth Century-Fox; however, he did not direct a second film for the studio. [Modern sources assert that the contract remained unfulfilled because of the studio's dissatisfaction with the length of production on Lifeboat. For more information on the Selznick sale to Twentieth Century-Fox, see the entry above for Claudia.] A December 28, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Hitchcock's first film for his new studio would be based on an original idea by himself, and would star an all-male cast. Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection and the Records of the Legal Department, both contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, confirms that the original idea for the film was Hitchcock's. The collections further reveal that Hitchcock first considered asking A. J. Cronin or James Hilton to write the screenplay, but no evidence was found confirming an offer to either author. The studio records contain a December 30, 1942 telegram from Hitchcock to Ernest Hemingway, requesting his assistance in preparing the screenplay. Hemingway declined, citing pressures from his own work, after which Hitchcock turned to Steinbeck.
Lifeboat marked the first time that Steinbeck wrote a fictional story directly for the screen. [His first screenplay was for The Forgotten Village, a 1941 documentary.] Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Steinbeck originally intended to publish his story as a novel, to which the studio would then purchase the screen rights. Steinbeck's screen story was never published, however, and the studio paid him $50,000 for his novella, according to studio records. According to a May 13, 1943 memo from producer Kenneth Macgowan to Hitchcock, contained in the legal files, Steinbeck's literary agent, Annie Laurie Williams, and Pat Covici "felt that Lifeboat was very inferior Steinbeck, however good it might be for pictures, and they decided it would be a great mistake for him to publish at this time another 'little' book, and one rather inferior." A condensation of the story appeared in Collier's (13 November 1943) with the credits "By Alfred Hitchcock and Harry Sylvester. Based on an original screen story by John Steinbeck for 20th Century-Fox." According to the legal records, Hitchcock declined an onscreen credit for his contribution to the film's screenplay, although Steinbeck's contract with the studio stipulated that Hitchcock would receive the credit "based on a story idea by Alfred Hitchcock."
A comparison of Steinbeck's novella and later drafts of the screenplay, included in the scripts collection, reveals that much of Steinbeck's work was altered by subsequent writers or by Hitchcock. For example, in Steinbeck's story, the German character is a physically weak man with a broken arm, whom "Joe" attempts to save after the others push him overboard. According to the studio records, Alma Reville [Mrs. Hitchcock], MacKinlay Kantor, Patricia Collinge, Albert Mannheimer and Marian Spitzer worked on drafts of the screenplay, but the extent of their contribution to the completed picture has not been determined. A January 27, 1943 studio press release indicated that Macgowan would write the screenplay version of Steinbeck's book. According to a February 1, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, during the writing of the story, Hitchcock and Steinbeck conferred with "the Maritime Commission, which is interested in the picture as a morale builder."
According to an February 18, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, Hitchcock was planning to shoot the picture in Technicolor and use only eight male characters. A April 29, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that, "following his usual procedure," Hitchcock would try to "cast as many unfamiliar faces as expedient" in the film and planned to "use unknowns for all principal roles." Stage actor Canada Lee was the first actor cast, according to a June 22, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item. Tallulah Bankhead, who was paid $75,000 for her performance according to modern sources, had not made a film since the 1932 M-G-M production Faithless (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1265). except for a cameo appearance in Stage Door Canteen (see below). Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Hitchcock tested Barbara Booth, Ron Randell and Eve March for parts in the film and note that William Bendix replaced Murray Alper in the role of "Gus Smith" when Alper fell ill after the start of filming. A 28 July 43 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that it was crucial for all of the actors to be cast before filming began because Hitchcock intended to shoot in sequence. A October 15, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Patricia Knox was to be included in the cast as a "vision" seen by William Bendix, but Knox does not appear in the completed film.
An May 18, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that during pre-production, Hitchcock and Macgowan used a miniature lifeboat and model figures to plan camera angles, as well as "official British lifeboat manuals" for authenticity in the script. According to a August 13, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, four lifeboats were used during the production: one for rehearsals, one for close-ups, another for long shots and the last was kept floating on the "studio lake," or tank. Hollywood Reporter news items note that background shots, supplied by a camera crew led by James Havens, were taken near Miami, the Florida Keys and San Miguel Island, CA. According to a studio press release, director of photography Glen MacWilliams replaced Arthur Miller after the first two weeks of filming when Miller became ill. The strenuous production, which often resulted in the actors being soaked with water and oil, led to two cases of pneumonia for Bankhead, a serious illness for actress Mary Anderson and two cracked ribs for actor Hume Cronyn, according to his autobiography. Filming was suspended for several days due to Bankhead and Anderson's illnesses, according to November 1943 Hollywood Reporter news items.
Hitchcock made his trademark appearance in the film in a newspaper advertisement for a fictional diet aid called "Reduco." The ad features "before and after" photographs of Hitchcock, who had recently gone on a rigorous diet. In the December 2, 1950 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Hitchcock stated that the ad in Lifeboat was his favorite "role," and that he had had "an awful time thinking it up." He also commented that, after the film's release, he was besieged by letters from fans requesting information about "Reduco." Some modern sources erroneously state that Hitchcock appeared in the film as a dead body floating in the water. Although Heather Angel's character is often referred to as "Mrs. Higgins" by contemporary and modern sources, she is called "Mrs. Higley" in the film.
Lifeboat generated much controversy upon its release, as some critics were angered by the character of "Willi." Political columnist Dorothy Thompson and film critic Bosley Crowther were among the influential writers who accused Steinbeck and Hitchcock of glorifying the German character while presenting the "Allied" characters as negative. The irate Thompson gave the film "ten days to get out of town," while Crowther professed to having a "sneaking suspicion that the Nazis, with some cutting here and there, could turn Lifeboat into a whiplash against the 'decadent democracies.' And it is questionable whether such a picture, with such a theme, is judicious at this time." The criticism led Steinbeck, who had previously been accused of being pro-Nazi with reference to his German characters in the novel and film The Moon Is Down (see below), to disassociate himself from Lifeboat. Life magazine noted that Steinbeck "disclaimed any responsibility for Director Hitchcock's and Scenarist Jo Swerling's treatment of his material." Upon learning of Steinbeck's discontent with the film, Crowther wrote an article for the New York Times detailing the differences between Steinbeck's original story and the film, and stating that Hitchcock and Macgowan had "pre-empted" Steinbeck's "creative authority." In a telegram to Annie Laurie Williams, reprinted in a modern source, Steinbeck requested that she tell Twentieth Century-Fox to remove his name "from any connection with any showing of this film." Some critics also complained about the portrayal of "Joe," who they felt was too stereotyped. In a December 26, 1943 New York Herald Tribune interview, actor Lee stated that he had tried to "revise the part" by cutting out some dialogue and action that he found to be demeaning. On March 15, 1945, in a deposition given for a pending lawsuit concerning the film (described below), Lee voiced his disappointment over the released picture. Lee stated that he had thought the character of Joe would be "a variation from any other Negro that was ever on the screen," but instead the filmmakers "stunk it up somehow or other, and it turned out to be the same old stereotyped Negro."
Hitchcock, Macgowan and Bankhead all defended the picture in print. Hitchcock maintained that he had intended the film to show how the Allies must stop bickering amongst themselves and unite in order to win the war. In a March 19, 1944 Los Angeles Times article, Hitchcock defended his protrayal of "Willi" by stating, "I always respect my villain, build[ing] him into a redoubtable character that will make my hero or thesis more admirable in defeating him or it." Bankhead supported Hitchcock in a February 6, 1944 New York Herald Tribune interview, in which she declared that "Hitchcock's a genius, a real genius. He wanted to teach an important lesson. He wanted to say that you can't trust the enemy....in Lifeboat you see clearly that you can't trust a Nazi, no matter how nice he seems to be." In a letter to the screen editors of the New York Times, Macgowan noted that the chief objective of the filmmakers had been to shape "a film with as much excitement and reality as we could summon under challenging technical limitations."
Lifeboat, a box-office failure, was the last film produced by Macgowan for Twentieth Century-Fox. The film did receive much critical praise, with some critics asserting that it was a powerful piece of propaganda, capable of demonstrating that the united Allies could defeat Germany. The acting was lauded, as was Hitchcock's direction, which was challenged by the limiting set. The absence of background music was also noted and praised. [Although there is music during the picture's opening, it ends when the dramatic action begins.] Bankhead was chosen as the best actress of the year by the New York Film Critics, and Film Daily and the National Board of Review named the picture as one of the ten best films of the year. Steinbeck received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story, and Glen MacWilliams received a nomination for Best Black And White Cinematography. Hitchcock was awarded his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
In January 1945, playwright Sidney Easton filed suit against Twentieth Century-Fox, claiming that the studio had plagiarized his unpublished play, Life Boat No. 13. The studio legal records contain a great deal of information about the suit, in which Easton alleged that he had given a copy of his play to actor Leigh Whipper, who in turn gave it to Steinbeck and the studio. Easton alleged that Steinbeck and the studio then stole his storyline and characters. Reports detailing the studio's internal investigation of the claim reveal that Hitchcock consulted many factual accounts of shipwreck survivors during the film's pre-production. Whipper denied having received the play from Easton, and both he and Steinbeck asserted that they had never met. In his deposition for the lawsuit, screenwriter Jo Swerling said, "After the first reading that I gave to the Steinbeck story, I never again referred to it, nor did anybody else working on the picture. We just didn't use it." On October 31, 1947, Easton agreed to drop his claim against the studio, in exchange for which he received nine thousand dollars.
On November 16, 1950, an hour-long version of Lifeboat was broadcast by NBC on the Screen Director's Playhouse radio show. The broadcast was directed by and featured Hitchcock, with Bankhead reprising her role as "Constance Porter." Other cast members included Jeff Chandler and Sheldon Leonard. In 1993, the Fox television network broadcast a remake of the film entitled Lifepod. Directed by and co-starring Ron Silver, the remake starred Robert Loggia and CCH Pounder, and was set aboard a lifepod that escapes from an exploding rocket in the year 2169.
Re-released in Paris July 3, 1991.
Released in United States Winter January 28, 1944
Released in United States Winter January 28, 1944