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LIFEBOAT (1944)



PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: moral worth

CHARACTERS: Connie Porter (wealthy journalist), Rittenhouse (wealthy industrial tycoon), Gus (crewman with injured leg), Kovak (crewman with socialist convictions), Alice (nurse), Stanley Garrett (English radioman, Hume Cronyn), Mrs. Higley (suicidal mother), Joe (black ship steward), Willy (German U-boat captain, Walter Slezak)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR ALFRED HITCHCOCK: The 39 Steps (1935), Rope (1948), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)

SYNOPSIS: “After their ship is sunk in the Atlantic by Germans, eight people are stranded in a lifeboat, among them a glamorous journalist (Tallulah Bankhead), a tough seaman (John Hodiak), a nurse (Mary Anderson) and an injured sailor (William Bendix). Their problems are further compounded when they pick up a ninth passenger - the Nazi captain from the U-boat that torpedoed them. With its powerful interplay of suspense and emotion, this legendary classic is a microcosm of humanity, revealing the subtleties of man's strengths and frailties under extraordinary duress.” – promotional synopsis, 20th Century Fox. The screenplay of Lifeboat is available at www.script-o-rama.com

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. The film opens with Connie Porter, the rich journalist, bragging about the pictures she took of the shipwreck. While her uncaring attitude may have been exaggerated, are there any similarities with her attitude, either in journalism or normal life?

2. How did Rittenhouse, the wealthy industrialist, respond when Mrs. Higley jumped overboard on his watch, and what’s the message behind his response?

3. When Rittenhouse referred to Joe as “George”, Joe said that he preferred to be called by his real name. “George” was a standard nickname for all black attendants, originating from the black servants on the Pullman passenger trains who were called “George” after the owner “George Pullman”. By contrast, Connie Porter (the journalist) initially referred to him as Joe. What’s the message here?

4. Connie Porter is a bit of a paradox. What was the most insensitive thing that she said or did on the boat, and what was the most compassionate?

5. Connie Porter deceptively manipulated Gus into agreeing to have his leg amputated. Did she do the right thing?

6. When everyone discovered that the German captain had tricked them regarding the direction to Bermuda, Kovak wanted to kill him. Should he have done so?

7. After the storm, the two women paired up with two guys. Good or bad idea?

8. As they became hungrier, several of them started describing their favorite restaurants. Good or bad idea?

9. What were the pros and cons of killing the German captain?

10. Near the end of the movie, Rittenhouse again calls Joe “George”, but this time Joe doesn’t mind. What’s the message here?

11. At the end of the movie they rescue a young German soldier who then pulls a gun on them. Rittenhouse says “See, you can’t treat them as human beings; you’ve got to exterminate them.” They get the gun from him, and the soldier asks whether they were going to kill him. Kovak says, “Aren’t you going to kill me: what are you going to do with people like that?” Stanley says “I don’t know. I was thinking of Mrs. Higley and her baby, and Gus.” Connie says “Well, maybe they can answer that.” Explain the point of this closing dialogue.

12. Movie critic Jay Antani states, “The lessons that Lifeboat's survivors ultimately learn, the stripping away of their class identities to work for the common good, all finally feels too morally on-the-nose. The characterizations lack the depth and nuance that a truly humanist artist would've brought to the material.” Do you agree?
13. Movie critic Dennis Schwarts states, “The propaganda value of the film might be muddied, as those folks from a democracy at times don't seem all that different from the Nazis (though the film was dismissed by some for its Allied propaganda; something I don't agree with if you look at it more carefully as a study of human nature and sheep-like mob mentality).” Is Lifeboat too much of a propaganda film?


REVIEWS:

Lifeboat: Alfred Hitchcock takes us on a cruise of personality flaws in this 1944 WWII classic. Lifeboat is an intense thriller, for its time, centered around the psychological drama produced when eight unlikely companions are thrown in a drastic circumstance. After a German U-boat torpedoes their ship, several survivors find themselves together in a lifeboat. Each is of a distinctly different: Connie Porter, is a famed fashion writer; others include tycoon Charles Rittenhouse, marxist seaman John Kovac, Stanley Garret, a radio operator, a wounded furnace stoker, a nurse, a grieving mother, and a porter. The group is joined by the commander of the German U-boat, Willy, which was itself sunk in the exchange. Choosing to take him aboard as a gesture of humanity, and for the sake of his seafaring skills, proves to be a fateful decision. Intellectually, we know we're supposed to be horrified by Willy's callousness, the same callousness that we are supposed to find amusing in Connie. Hitchcock undermines these expected responses so that we actually become annoyed with Connie at first and side with Willy's no-nonsense strength. The yawn is the first time we are made to identify with Willy, which implicates us in his treachery later on. Hitchcock never puts his audience at a distance from his characters; we are always being confronted by ourselves and our attitudes because of his masterful manipulation of various points of view. His serial killers, like Bruno Anthony and Norman Bates, are always the most attractive, sympathetic characters in his films. That's why Willy the Nazi is given its fair shake, which is what makes Lifeboat so disturbing. And like always with Hitchcock he has to make a cameo, a newspaper ad for diet pill Reduco, a before and after picture of himself. — B.C.

Lifeboat was not the scary, suspenseful movie I had expected upon learning that Alfred Hitchcock was the director. Rather, it provided an interesting insight to how humans would behave when stranded, particularly in regard to the degredation of their morals and class boundaries. Forced to rely upon themselves and, reluctantly, others, the people on the boat did what they could to survive. One very basic challenge they faced was simply trying to get along with each other. The cast of characters on the boat ranged from a German U boat captain to a greedy capitalist to an African American cook. This group of people would probably have a difficult time getting along under normal circumstances, let alone on a boat stranded in the ocean. Anti-Nazi sentiments are also very prevalent in this movie. It seems the one thing the rest of the survivors can agree upon is that they don’t fully trust the Nazi captain. These anti-Nazi sentiments are not surprising considering the time period in which the movie was made. The survivors’ united dislike of the Nazi captain could also be considered a message from Hitchcock to the Allied forces to work together despite their differences to defeat the Nazis. — D.O.

Lifeboat: This film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and adapted from a story by John Steinbeck, discusses the social issues those involved in World War II faced in the 1940’s. Almost simultaneously as primary characters are introduced in the aftermath of their boat sinking, a definite economic hierarchy is established based on the characters’ backgrounds. A full spectrum of high and low society is represented, ranging from the rich oil tycoon down to the African American ship hand. However, as their time continues on the lifeboat and their need to cooperate for survival increases, the viewer observes this social hierarchy fade into the background. Upon seeing this, some critics of the film feel as though Hitchcock and Steinbeck border on “preachy” in appearing as though their message is to convince viewers to ignore distinctions of class and treat others fairly at all times. However, after including the film’s philosophical dark ending in thinking about the director’s message, one may think differently. At the conclusion of the movie, even though the group seems ever changed when experiencing shock at the almost automatic retaliation of a young German soldier who washes up on their lifeboat, they almost immediately contradict this as they simply return to their previously defined social status as if they had never shared the experience at all. Ultimately, Hitchcock’s and Steinbeck’s message may have been to communicate the pettiness and selfishness of human nature in relation to social hierarchy. — J.D.

Lifeboat was an entertaining and philosophically relevant movie. Early on the characters are faced with the moral dilemma of keeping the German Captain on the lifeboat. Since he was responsible for their predicament and the death of many innocent people several people on the lifeboat want to simply toss him overboard. There is only so much food and water to go around and keeping the German onboard means they have to give food to someone that tried to kill them. The villain in this movie, like most movies from this time, is entirely evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This isn’t clear at the beginning; at first the movie is ambiguous about the German’s true intentions. But soon it becomes clear that he was evil all along and all sympathy for him is lost. The German pulled into the lifeboat at the end of the movie is essentially no different than the first German. He wants to harm the people on the lifeboat but is not as subtle about it. I think that Lifeboat may have been a little too influential. Invariably in every discussion of morality someone will say something such as “Well if you were on a lifeboat with limited supplies and had to choose someone to throw overboard…” Such discussions focus on the exceptions instead of the rules. Thus people leave confused about morality or worse think morality is arbitrary. As the legal saying goes, good cases make bad law. — N.T.

Lifeboat: This movie was pretty interesting. It started off slowly, but it quickly speed up. I thought that It would have ended differently, but it leaves something to the imagination. The first interesting thing that caught my eye was the fact that everyone getting on the boat was oily and soggy. The journalist however looked like she had been prepared all day long for the event to happen. She seemed to care more about her appearance than anything else. At the end of the movie, she realizes that it is all material and it wasn’t going to help in her survival. She laughs it off when the bracelet falls to the bottom of the sea. Another interesting fact was how they treated the German. Only a few wanted to help him and keep him aboard, but some very angry and really wanted him thrown overboard. He was sent there to do them harm, and they could not get over their human emotions and see him for what he really was. In the end, the German served his purpose by betraying the others. So when the next soldier came onto the ship, they knew what to do with him. All in all I liked the way the movie showed the change in the characters, and how people really do choose their own destiny. — C.J.

Lifeboat is a pretty interesting movie that details the lives of some survivors from a ship and a U-boat after they sink each other’s ship. They are forced to deal with the differences of the time and age that presented themselves during World War II. This makes for very interesting plot American and British citizens of an Allied country mixed with a German seaman of one of the Axis countries. That sounds like instant calamity amongst the survivors and how they form somewhat of an allegiance to survive the situation is miraculous. Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, especially because it’s a Hitchcock film, and the man is golden when it comes to film. I highly recommend this film if you like Hitchcock or like Steinbeck this movie is a true gem to that any movie buff should watch. — J.M.

Lifeboat: This movie surprised me in its ability to keep me enthralled with both the story and the characters as the film moved along. As the movie opens the audience is polarized between two opposite characters in Connie and Kovak. Also, the scene opens with a great shipwreck sequence. The instant up close shot of the smokestack that fades into a sinking ship drew me instantly into the rest of the movie. The two characters set up the rest if the movie with different characters making up the lifeboat crew. The human intrigue and personal dynamics is apparent as each additional survivor comes on board. Finally when the German is rescued, I was completely sucked into the movie. Even as the German Captain strung the others along, I did not see the film as a propaganda film. When the German Captain killed Gus, the propaganda sprang out at me; but even then the story kept me wanting to see the film to a conclusion. I was odd thought how Hitchcock had a few of the survivors “pair up” Noah’s’ ark style; Connie and Kovak (sort of) and Stanley and Alice. These characters have flaws (such as Alice’s dating of a married man); but each becomes a study in classism and how those divisions break down in trying times. Each of the characters has a role to play in the situation, using their existing talents to work together to survive. But as soon as rescue arrives; all is back to normal. The film portrays society as it is; rigid and fixed and rarely changed, unless under extreme circumstances. — L.T.

Lifeboat: I didn’t like this one very much. I’m not sure if it was because the entirety of the film was just a bunch of people floating on a raft through or senioritis was making me not care but I found it difficult to keep my attention on what was going on. As with the other films by Alfred Hitchcock that I have seen, I was just overall unimpressed. I did like the characters. Each one was unique bringing, their own twist to the overall story. I found myself wondering how I would fair being stuck out at sea with a handful of strangers and very little in the way of provisions. I am sure that that situation would cause a lot of emotional strain as well which would fuel tempers and dark thoughts. I think it might be enough to push someone to murder. We are all driven by self-preservation but the question arises of whether or not we can overcome those drives enough to think of the greater good. I think that if they were friends or family it would be more likely that one could resist those selfish thoughts but as was seen with the Nazi in the film, if there isn’t a bond between the occupants of the boat it makes them less likely to think about the needs of all. The Nazi would have been fine if he would have controlled his desires better but he failed to do so and paid for it with his life. — J.R.

Lifeboat started slowly and unsurely. However, it came together in the end by working on the pessimistic theme that class systems and thought cannot be truly overcome. The film starts with the journalist on the boat in her fur coat, looking as if she were on a midnight boat ride through a Venetian canal, not on a lifeboat after having her ship sunk by a Nazi U-boat. Very quickly the boat fills with passengers from widely varying social classes. We have a common laborer from the engine room, a navigator who would be sort of mid-level officer, a black servant, and a wealthy business tycoon, among others. As the Nazi captain of the U-boat comes aboard the lifeboat and the passengers learn of his true identity, some of the passengers led by Kovak want to throw him over. Connie and Rittenhouse object on seemingly moral grounds, but as we see later in the film, this may be due to his social bearing compared to the captain?s. For, at the end of the film, another Nazi boat is sunk, and a young German crewman is brought onboard, and Rittenhouse wants to kill him, whereas Kovak, who is of a lower class like the young German, seems to be against such a radical step. This is just one among many compelling issues in this Hitchcock masterpiece. — J.R.

The movie “The Lifeboat” is a thought-provoking film that deals more in the ethical and moral philosophies a person encounters during war. The movie starts with Several American and British civilians are stuck in a lifeboat somewhere in the North Atlantic after their ship and a U-boat sink each other in combat. Will, a German survivor, is pulled aboard and denies being an enemy officer. During an animated debate, Kovac demands the German be thrown out and allowed to drown. Cooler heads prevail with Garrett asserting the German's prisoner of war status and he is allowed to stay. Most of the questions raised during the film revolved around the treatment of the German and others on the boat such as Connie Porter deceptively manipulated Gus into agreeing to have his leg amputated. Did she do the right thing? When everyone discovered that the German captain had tricked regarding the direction to Bermuda, Kovak wanted to kill him. Should he have done so? And what were the pros and cons of killing the German captain? The overall question raised by the film, which was filmed during World War II was its use in propaganda when one of the critics asked The propaganda value of the film might be muddied, as those folks from a democracy at times don't seem all that different from the Nazis (though the film was dismissed by some for its Allied propaganda; something I don't agree with if you look at it more carefully as a study of human nature and sheep-like mob mentality).” Is Lifeboat too much of a propaganda film? — A.V.

In the movie Lifeboat by Alfred Hitchcock, there is deep look into the worth of human beings and their moral dignity when facing the perils of being lost at sea. Among the first characters that are introduced in the film is an intelligent reporter who takes pictures of the initial explosion of the Nazi torpedo that sank the American ship she was on. As the other Americans, who survive the wreck, find sanctuary on board, Connie seems more concerned with her photographic evidence of the wreck than anything else. The truly intriguing part of the film is when these Americans meet the captain of the German U-boat that fired the torpedo. Some of the crew argue that it would be foolish to let him on board with them knowing that he is a Nazi. Some feel, as they can trust him and others wish to throw him over board. As they bicker over the value of the German’s life there is an interesting issue raised of self worth. As the mother loses the life of her baby she becomes enraged and kills herself; the death of her baby was too much for her to handle. Throughout the film there is a distinction of “us and them,” as the audience tries to justify who are the more morally inept amongst all the casualties of war. When watching the film it can, at times, be hard to justify who is the person. — D.M.

 
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