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Lifeboat (1944)

aka Lifeboat

"Six men and three women - against the sea, and each other!"

Directed By: 
Details: 96 mins · English, Deutsch, French


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From Everybody:

Underrated Hitchcock film

Although it's not as well-known as other Hitchcock films from this era, LIFEBOAT offers plenty of drama and an excellent ensemble cast. It's also your best best for seeing infamous stage star Tallulah Bankhead on the big screen.

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"Six men and three women - against the sea, and each other!"

"Six men and three women - against the sea and each other."


Several British and US civilians are stuck in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic after their ship and a U-boat sink each other in combat. Willi (Walter Slezak), a German survivor, is pulled aboard and denies being an enemy officer. During an animated debate, Kovac (John Hodiak) demands the German be thrown out and allowed to drown. However, cooler heads prevail, with Garrett (Hume Cronyn) and columnist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) asserting the German's prisoner of war status, and he is allowed to stay.

One passenger, an infant, dies almost immediately after boarding. His mother is a young British woman (Heather Angel), who, after being treated by a nurse (Mary Anderson), must be tied down to stop her from hurting herself. The woman sneaks off the boat while the other passengers sleep, drowning herself in the night.

The film then follows the lifeboat inhabitants as they attempt to organize their rations, set a course for Bermuda, and coexist as they try to survive. The characters start out being good-natured, cooperative, and optimistic about rescue. However, they descend into desperation, dehydration, and frustration with each other. The back stories of the characters are examined, and divisions of race, religion, sex, class, and nationality are brought to the surface. The passengers also cooperate through this stress, such as when they must amputate the leg of one of their boatmates due to gangrene.

Kovac takes charge, rationing the little food and water they have, but Willi gradually takes control away from him. Willi is later revealed to be the U-boat captain. One morning, while the others are sleeping, the injured German-American Gus Smith (Bendix) catches Willi drinking water from a hidden flask. Too delirious and weak to wake anybody up, Gus is pushed overboard by Willi and drowns while the others sleep. Upon waking, the others discover Gus missing and Willi is questioned. When they notice that the German is sweating, the other passengers discover the hoarded flask in his jacket. In a spasm of anger they descend upon him as a group, beat him, and throw him overboard, striking him multiple times with Gus's boot to prevent him from re-boarding. Musing on Willi's treachery, Rittenhouse (Hull) asks, "What do you do with people like that?"

The survivors are subsequently spotted by the German supply ship to which Willi had been steering them. Before a launch can pick them up, both the supply ship and rescue-lifeboat are sunk by an Allied warship. A frightened young German seaman is pulled aboard the lifeboat. He pulls a gun on the boat occupants but is surprised and disarmed. He asks in German, "Aren't you going to kill me?" The film ends with surviving passengers arguing about keeping the new German sailor aboard or throwing him off to drown as they await the Allied vessel to rescue them. Again the question is asked, "What do you do with people like that?"

Release Dates:

Theatrical : 1944-01-28 : United States of America

DVD : 2005-10-18