Lifeboat (1944)

96-98 mins | Drama | 28 January 1944

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HISTORY

The film's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox Presents Alfred Hitchcock's Production of Lifeboat By John Steinbeck." According to a 16 Nov 1942 HR 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 28 Dec 1942 HR 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 30 Dec 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. ... More Less

The film's opening title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox Presents Alfred Hitchcock's Production of Lifeboat By John Steinbeck." According to a 16 Nov 1942 HR 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 28 Dec 1942 HR 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 30 Dec 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 (see above).] HR 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 13 May 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 Nov 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 27 Jan 1943 studio press release indicated that Macgowan would write the screenplay version of Steinbeck's book. According to a 1 Feb 1943 HR 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 18 Feb 1943 HR news item, Hitchcock was planning to shoot the picture in Technicolor and use only eight male characters. A 29 Apr 1943 HR 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 22 Jun 1943 HR 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). HR 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 Jul 43 HR 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 15 Oct 1943 HR 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 18 May 1943 HR 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 13 Aug 1943 HR 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. HR 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 Nov 1943 HR 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 2 Dec 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 NYT 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 26 Dec 1943 NYHT 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 15 Mar 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 19 Mar 1944 LAT 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 6 Feb 1944 NYHT 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 NYT , 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 FD 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 Jan 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 31 Oct 1947, Easton agreed to drop his claim against the studio, in exchange for which he received nine thousand dollars.
       On 16 Nov 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. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Jan 1944.
---
Daily Variety
19 Oct 43
p. 13.
Daily Variety
16 Nov 43
p. 1.
Daily Variety
12 Jan 44
p. 3, 33
Film Daily
12 Jan 44
p. 29.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 42
p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 42
pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 43
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Apr 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Apr 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
13 May 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 43
p. 4, 9
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 43
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 43
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 43
pp. 8-9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 43
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jan 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 44
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 44
p. 1, 3
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 44
p. 1.
Life
31 Jan 44
pp. 76-81.
Los Angeles Times
19 Mar 1944.
---
Motion Picture Daily
12 Jan 1944.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Jan 44
p. 1713.
New York Herald Tribune
26 Dec 1943.
---
New York Herald Tribune
2 Jan 1944.
---
New York Herald Tribune
6 Feb 1944.
---
New York Times
13 Jan 44
p. 17.
New York Times
23 Jan 1944.
---
New York Times
6 Feb 1944.
---
New Yorker
5 Feb 1944.
---
The Saturday Evening Post
2 Dec 1950.
---
Variety
12 Jan 44
p. 24.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Alfred Hitchcock's Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Orig story idea
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
Loc cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Backgrounds
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Dial coach
Dial coach
Unit prod mgr
Prod mgr
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Preislied" by Richard Wagner.
SONGS
"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else But Me)," music and lyrics by Lew Brown, Charlie Tobias and Sammy Stept
"Heidenroslein," music by Franz Schubert, lyrics by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Du, Du, Liegst Mir im Herzen" and "Treue Liebe," German folk songs.
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 January 1944
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 January 1944
Production Date:
3 August--17 November 1943
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
28 January 1944
Copyright Number:
LP12521
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
96-98
Length(in feet):
8,711
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
PCA No:
9598
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.