Lifeboat – Film Genius without Spectacle

This tour de force gives the auteur theory meaning. The visual art of this film spells “Intellectual European Auteur” — one would never guess “Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense.” This is a masterpiece of film art, which demonstrates how brilliant direction can give a superb script additional force.  Unlike so many current Hollywood productions that concentrate on spectacle (one of Aristotle’s “essential” elements of drama), this film concentrates on creating a psychological space that provides a context for a profound meditation on war, faith, the nature of evil, and the brevity of human life.

Lifeboat Image

A torpedoed ship during the WWII leaves only a few passengers alive in a lifeboat. A German soldier is also saved, but two of the passengers suspect the German is actually captain of the submarine that sank their ship. Here the two conspire to find out the identity of the German.
Lifeboat image

The captain responds brightly to “Herr Capitan,” thus revealing his identity.

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William Bendix, in a great performance, plays the part of a well-meaning, but ill-educated “common man” who symbolizes the victims of Nazi brutality. Clearly suspicious in this shot. Every shot in the film is carefully composed to demonstrate what characters are thinking and feeling as well as to indicate thematic context.
Lifeboat image

Who would think that a “glamour shot” would make its appearance in a lifeboat? Here, we see Connie Porter (Talulah Bankhead) become the object of desire for Stanley Garett (Hume Cronyn). The soft focus glamour shot transforms the psychological space for both the characters and the audience.
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At the climax of the film, there is a moment of decision. Note the forward leaning and expression of the character on the right, who precipitates the group’s action.

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