Desiree Townsend

Dr. Gregory Robinson

FIS 410


Lifeboat- Hitchcock

  • Introduction

  • Meaning of Lifeboat

  • Common Themes with Other Hitchcock Films

  • Scene Analysis 1

  • Scene Analysis 2

  • Reception

  • Works Cited

"The picture is based on an original idea of director Alfred Hitchcock's. According to sources, John Steinbeck was asked to write the story for publication but ended up writing the story for screen purposes only, with Jo Swerling handling the adaptation." (Variety)

The movie is about the war and survivors of a u-boat attack on a steamship on its way to London. It opens with a woman in a lifeboat and as she floats along more people get into the lifeboat, the last person to climb aboard is a German from the sinking u-boat.

"Patterned along one of the simplest, most elementary forms of dramatic narration, the action opens and closes on a lifeboat". (Variety) All of the filming takes place on a boat, with the lighting varying from day to night and some storm scenes added.

Meaning of “Lifeboat”
Lifeboat illustrates human behavior and how it changes depending on the situation. In the beginning and end of the film, the passengers show distrust of the German sailor that climbs aboard the lifeboat. Throughout the film, characters change depending on what is happening at the time. After Willie, the German sailor helps save Gus the American merchant marine sailor’s life, the others are willing to trust him. But as for Willie, as we find out later, he has been lying to them all the time. It is only after he pushes Gus overboard, that they see the truth. They all turn on him and kill him.
When they see a ship and realize that it is a German supply ship they are resigned to their fate. Ironically, the ship is attacked by an American ship and sunk. They have another German sailor climb on board and he pulls a gun, they take it but do not attack him. He asks if they are going to kill him and they say no. They are no longer in danger and their behavior mirrors that situation rather than the way they were acting when they killed the German sailor or quietly waited for capture.
Common Themes with Other Hitchcock Films
"Suspense is common in all of Hitchcock’s films. Lifeboat shares that from the beginning. “Despite that it's a slow starter, the picture, from the beginning, leaves a strong impact and, before too long, develops into the type of suspenseful product with which Hitchcock has always been identified.” (

As soon as the German climbs on board, the audience knows that there is tension because he is the enemy and cannot be trusted. Immediately, other passengers want to throw him overboard and even talk about killing him. Suspense continues when the audience gets little hints that the characters do not such as the fact that the German sailor has a compass hidden and knows exactly where they are going. Trust is given to the sailor when he helps with saving Gus’ life, but the audience still wonders if they should trust him. Suspense grows as “Willie” the German sailor is at the oars and we know that he is taking them to the German supply ship. We see the passengers slowly fading from lack of food, while Willie rows the lifeboat looking like nothing is wrong. We find out at the end that he has water and food tablets and when he is caught by Gus drinking water, he pushes him overboard. No one pays any attention to Gus’s warning because he has been drifting in and out talking to his girlfriend, Rosie.

Scene Analysis 1

In this scene, the passengers wake up to find out that Gus is missing and they find out that Willie pushed him overboard. Willie is sitting in the back of the boat rowing, when they wake up and find that Gus has gone over. This scene, like all the others takes place in the lifeboat, in the early morning. The passengers have all slept through the night miserably suffering from thirst and hunger. Gus has also been suffering from the pain in his leg.

The passengers question why Willie did not stop rowing and Willie calmly asks why he would. He talks about how Gus was suffering and how this is all for the best. Stanley remembers that Gus was trying to tell him something and then realizes that it was that Willie had water. They see that Willie is sweating, Joe searches him and the flask of water breaks. Willie calmly tells them that he also had food and energy pills. He tells them that they all should be grateful that someone had a plan for their survival. They all turn on him and after beating him with whatever objects they could find, they push him overboard. Ironically, he is hit with Gus’ shoe and that is what finally gets him overboard.

This scene shows Willie’s true colors. It shows that he really didn’t care about any of them and that he had plotted and lied to them from the beginning. The other passengers have gone from hating him to trusting him and in the end every one of them turned on him. This scene shows the dark side of human nature and what everyone thought of the Nazis. This Steinbeck story illustrates the “devastating indictment of the nature of Nazi bestiality” and this scene is a good example of what the public thought of the Nazis at the time of this movie ‘s release. ( The audience would not have expected anything different. The fact that the Nazi sailor was bad from the beginning did not come as any surprise.

Scene Analysis 2

In the final scene, right after the supply ship has sunk and they see the American ship everything changes again. They start to get their hopes up. George (Joe) shows them pictures of his family and Kovac and Connie are talking about the items that he owes her; Ritt talks about the money that he owes Kovak and Alice asks Stanley his last name. Everyone is feeling happy and relieved. Just then there is a hand on the side of the boat and a young sailor pulls himself up. He is speaking German. Rittenhouse (Ritt) wants to push him overboard. Connie and Alice defended him just like when Willie came aboard. Just then the young man pulls out a gun. They rush him and take it from him, and throw it overboard. He asks in German, “Aren’t you going to kill me?” The passengers seem surprised by this comment and wonder why he would say something like that and why he would think that way. But really, this attitude is surprising after what has been happening in the movie. It would only make sense that they would kill him. But the situation is different now, they are going to be rescued by the Americans and he will end up a prisoner. This scene is the end of the movie and after everything the final words seem surprising as well. Kovak says, “ What are you going to do with people like that?” Stanley says that he is thinking of those that died and Connie finishes with “Well, maybe they can answer that..” This comment shows that the whole thing is confusing. How everyone acted from beginning to the end of this movie towards each other. They killed one German and then saved another one from drowning. Even after he pulled a gun, they left him alive. Of course, they can turn him over to the people on the ship. Connie’s last comment shows that only those that died from this experience would really understand.

“Thanks to a sharp script and the deft directorial skills of Alfred Hitchcock, “Lifeboat” is a strong wartime drama that avoids the flag-waving fare found in other films of its time.” ( Even though it was written by Steinbeck it was not received well by the public.

“Perhaps that’s what kept people away from theaters when it was initially released in 1944, as wartime audiences wanted reinforcement in black-and-white terms, not movies that made you explore the gray areas of human nature. But it’s this examination that gives “Lifeboat” a timeliness that feels fresh today. In a way, it’s an unsettling film because it shows how we haven’t come very far in terms of dealing with people who are different from us.” ( This movie did not deal with patriotism. It made the Americans look bad because the German outwitted them. They did redeem themselves in the end. The Americans win in the end. It is a dark movie about the dark sides of human nature. It did not make Americans look very intelligent.

“Critics were divided upon its release. Some adored it; others, like Dorothy Thompson, hated it. She famously wrote, “I’ll give the film three days to get out of town.” The Academy did remember the movie during awards season, as Hitchcock earned the second best director nomination of his career. Nominations also came for Steinbeck and cinematography. It’s a shame the movie was overlooked. Had the Academy not reduced the number of best picture nominees from 10 to five that year, it’s a given the movie would have been nominated.” ( It still had good qualities, but because the subject was so dark, it was not popular. Now people look at it differently because it is about human nature. At the time, it was judged only by subject and how people felt at the time.

“The cast was also surprised by the film’s failure. They felt the intelligent story ultimately provided what could rally audiences during this period of war.” (
I am sure that the cast felt that the movie should have done better. They felt good about what they had created. Ultimately, it had potential to be a classic, but maybe the timing was off.

Works Cited

Ry Mickey’s Ramblings – poster for wiki
Variety Review of Lifeboat 1943
Film Review
Film Review and blog