During World War II in the Atlantic Ocean an Allied ship and a German U-Boat are engaged in battle and both sink. The survivors from the Allied ship manage to get on a lifeboat. They include journalist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead – A Royal Scandal, Faithless), wealthy businessman Charles Rittenhouse (Henry Hull – Boys Town, The Great Gatsby), nurse Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson – Gone With The Wind), black steward Joe (Canada Lee – Cry, Beloved Country), merchant marine Gus Smith (William Bendix – Woman of the Year, Streets of Laredo), radio operator Sparks Garrett (Hume Cronyn – The Pelican Brief, Cocoon), and sailor John Kovac (John Hodiak – The People Against O'Hara). Everything is going along as smoothly as is possible under these conditions until they pull a man out of the ocean who is a German from the U-Boat that torpedoed them. Kovac does not trust the German, named Willy (Walter Slezak – Sinbad the Sailor), and wants to throw him back into the ocean. The others disagree and from this point on the tension on the small lifeboat continues to grow. The survivors not only have to worry about the sea, but also each other.
Director Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds, Vertigo) has always been considered a master of tension and suspense in almost all his films and Lifeboat is no exception. This coupled with a great script written by Jo Swerling (The Pride of the Yankees, Pennies From Heaven) based on the novel by John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath). Both director and screenwriter have brilliantly used the close quarters of the lifeboat to their advantage to heighten the paranoia, selfishness, discord, and fear amongst the survivors. Because of Hitchcock's excellent direction and camera work the lifeboat never feels claustrophobic. They also have done a great job at giving each character a back story so each is a fleshed out character. At the time of its release many people criticized the film and Hitchcock for the anti-propaganda message within the film and also that he was advocating that since both sides had their strengths that they should just get together to work out their differences. Great stage actress Tallulah Bankhead also is perfect in the role of the gold digging materialistic journalist. It is easily her best role off the stage. This is a Hitchcock film which is underrated compared to his other films and should be seen by more people.
-The Making of Lifeboat