(Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1944)


The statement that Lifeboat is a quite minor Hitchcock film is, I presume, uncontroversial. Pauline Kael's capsule review in 5001 Nights at the Movies refers to it as "ham-handed", and few have persuasively contested that view.

Hitchcock may have regarded it primarily as a technical challenge, an exercise of sorts: how to take a story set in one tiny, confined space and make it both visually varied and dramatically engaging? He was still boasting about his achievement in this regard in 1974, to Andy Warhol in Interview: "You know, I had about three boats made for that Lifeboat".

The spatiality of the film indeed makes for an interesting study: Hitchcock works so much on the principle of separating the characters and then focalising in turn on their various interactions that the film even misses out, finally, on any real or driving sense of claustrophobia.

Overall, Lifeboat has some nice moments of comic and/or tense interaction, and one certified moment of inadvertent surrealism, when everyone gangs up on Slezak, and the assembled huddle, shot from the back, hides from us their act of murder.

remake: Lifepod

MORE Hitchcock: The Birds, Family Plot, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, Shadow of a Doubt

© Adrian Martin November 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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