Lifeboat (1944): Hitchcock’s Oscar-Nominated WWII Melodrama, Starring Tallulah Bankhead

Hitchcock directed this WWII melodrama, which approached the war from a different angle than the usual.

It was sort of an experimental film, due to the fact that the entire action is confined to a small lifeboat adrift on the Atlantic, centering on a handful of survivors from a torpedoed freighter.

Among the passengers was the captain of the attacking U-boat, which was also sunk during the engagement.  The oddly assorted group of castaways represented a cross-section of Allied nationalities and points of view as well as personality types, including a self-centered lady journalist (Tallulah Bankhead), a bewildered nurse (Mary Anderson), a shy radio operator (Hume Cronyn), a tough crew member of Czech ancestry (John Hodiak), a shipping magnate (Henry Hull), a crazed mother (Heather Angel) and her dead baby, a black steward (Canada Lee), and a wounded crewman (William Bendix).

The tale was meant to be microcosm of the war. The character of the Nazi U-boat captain, excellently acted by Walter Slezak, provided the most startling and controversial aspect of the picture.  The Nazi was portrayed as the only stable, level-headed and practical member of the group.  He was the only one among them who had a plan for survival amid the confusion and self-pity that marked his lifeboat companions.

This was a disturbing factor for some critics alarmed at the implications.  Hitchcock, however, said that he made the Nazi a strong character in order to indicate that the Nazis should not be underestimated by the Allies.

Lifeboat was a box-office success in New York City, but not elsewhere.  Hitchcock received an Academy Award nomination for best Director and Tallulah Bankhead won the New York Film Critics’ Best Actress award.


Honoring his tradition, Hitchcock found an original way to appear in the film, in a newspaper ad on the lifeboat shown before and after the story.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Director: Hitchcock

Original Story: John Steinbeck

Cinematography (b/w): Glen MacWilliams

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of Best Director Oscar was Leo McCarey for Going My Way.  McCarey also won the Original Story Award.

The Best Cinematography Oscar went to Jospeh LaShelle for the terrific noir melodrama, Laura.



Tallulah Bankhead

William Bendix

Walter Slezak

Mary Anderson

John Hodiak

Henry Hull

Heather Angel

Hume cronyn

Canada Lee



New York release date: January 12, 1944

20th Century-Fox.

Produced by Kenneth Macgowan.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Screenplay by Jo Swerling.

Based on the story by John Steinbeck.