A 96-minute movie that all takes place on a drifting boat does not sound particularly interesting. But would you skip the movie had I had told you its skipper is Alfred Hitchcock. That’s right, the famed portly filmmaker dives into the challenge and hence, “Lifeboat” is a cinematic splash that ripples waves of terror into the audience.

The movie maroons the viewer with a limited cast of characters, all survivors after a ship has been torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Among the passengers: a mother and her infant, a man with an injured leg, and a female journalist with a privileged ego. They will be instrumental in keeping the movie anchored in drama and soaked in snippy humor. But this is a Hitchcock movie after all. Tension and suspense will soon gush in and rock the boat in undulating terror. Why, look what we have here – a Nazi survivor who comes on board at the last minute. What an unsettling boat this is going to be!

The screenplay, based on a John Steinbeck story, is quite consistent in keeping our interest afloat. Sure, sometimes the film would stall when characters talk about their backgrounds. But these crucial scenes later set up the movie’s juicy developments that include personalities clashing, suspicions arising, and the heartless sea claiming lives. The story is relentless in spilling predicament after predicament. I must admit that, with the exception of two actors, the cast is flatly forgettable. But I found myself invested in their fates nevertheless.

As the movie’s aye-aye captain, Alfred Hitchcock is one smooth operator. He is so slyly precise in the way he shoots his revelations. I especially love the slow-burning ones (most memorable: a shadow passes over a character’s face). He definitely knows where to direct, or, just as important, misdirect his camera. He is so skilled at it that I even forgot that the movie is obviously shot in a studio’s water tank.

I wouldn’t put this on my top 5 Hitchcock movies. There are some cringe-inducing moments that shows the movie’s age. One man is affectionately called Charcoal and his revealed talent came off as racist to me. Also, some people might read too much on the movie’s supposed politics. It might be anti “this” or pro “that.” Whatever! I think that stuff was inserted for a better story impact. “Lifeboat” should be seen as a scrappy movie. An adept little thriller despite its limitations. In my eyes, no nit-picky asshole can sink it.

Grade: B+

Tallulah Bankhead
William Bendix
Walter Slezak
Mary Anderson
John Hodiak
Henry Hull
Heather Angel
Hume Cronyn
Canada Lee
Based on the novella by
John Steinbeck
Screenplay by
Jo Swerling
Directed by
Alfred Hitchcock