Lifeboat [Masters of Cinema] [UK] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz/16-bit)
- Subtitles: English SDH
- Region: B (Region-Locked)
- Certification: PG
- Discs: 2 (1 x Blu-ray + 1 x DVD)
- Run time: 98 Mins.
- Studio: Eureka Entertainment
- Blu-ray Release Date: April 23, 2012
- RRP: £20.42/£30.63 (Steelbook)
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Despite its occasional overstepping into the realm of obvious wartime propaganda, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 film Lifeboat has to be one of the filmmaker’s greatest cinematic achievements. Finally convincing John Steinbeck to “go Hollywood,” the screenplay was based on a novella from the author commissioned specifically to act as a treatment for the film by Hitchcock. Near and dear to Hitchcock’s heart, this wartime drama for the British native was his chance to contribute to the war effort and also a chance to stretch his creative muscle. The veteran filmmaker’s years of the big and intricate drama were filtered down for this deceptively simple film staged entirely in the confines of a single lifeboat.
After a luxury liner is torpedoed by a German U-boat and the flotsam and jetsam of the wreckage are drifting and sinking, a small group of eight surviving passengers from different walks of life make their way onto a solitary lifeboat. Sophisticated photojournalist Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), communist seaman John Kovac (John Hodiak), the well meaning nurse Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson), radio-operator Stan (Hume Cronyn), wounded Brooklyner and baseball fan Gus Smith (William Bendix), the tycoon Charles Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), black-steward George Spencer (Canada Lee) and a despondent mother, Mrs. Higgins (Heather Angel), with the body of her dead baby. After a day or so of aimless drifting, one more survivor is taken aboard – Willy (Walter Slezak) survivor of the German U-boat whose presence immediately causes tensions amongst the already uneasy survivors. Should they throw him overboard, or should they help him? The German-speaking Willy narrowly wins a reprieve due to his being the only one aboard with any true seafaring knowledge and slowly the survivors cede their survival to his will. When it is found out that, not only was he the captain of the U-boat, but that he speaks English, it is already too late for them to do anything about it. Willy has connived his way into pointing their lifeboat toward the German supply ship and the survivors are all but resigned to their fate as prisoners of war, but Willy’s callous treatment of the by then amputee Gus leads to a violent, mob-like mutiny of sorts by all but one of the survivors, perhaps sealing the German’s fate.
It’s almost miraculous that Hitchcock could take a story limited to such a confined space and create something so intriguing and riveting, but at every turn he finds a way to make it it both visually and emotionally appealing. Also noteworthy is the leading lady Tallulah Bankhead, in the unlikely position of being thrown into the mix with the ragtag group of survivors, a glamorous and self-centered woman with drive and strength who turns all the annoying outward characteristics of her role into a humorous and attractive charm.
The ultimate ending of Lifeboat may to many today be obvious wartime propaganda and ethnic stereotyping, and it certainly was, but despite those minor flaws, as mentioned before, the technical and dramatic triumph of the film are nearly impossible to deny.
The opening sequences of Lifeboat might cause a bit of anxiety due to the smokey atmosphere and very grainy texture, but never you worry, after things settle down, this transfer from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema imprint looks spectacular, apart from some unavoidable issues with damage here and there like scratches and tramlines. The contrast is wide and vivid with blacks looking quite deep and solid, detail is strong, only softening ever so often from the camera effects. Grain is apparent, a little coarse at times, but mostly looking just right. The best part about this effort from the Masters of Cinema series is it doesn’t look to have been too strongly manipulated in the digital realm, therefore grain structure and detail all remain pretty much intact for a natural, organic experience.
An excellent sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz/16-bit) encodement of the original monaural soundtrack is included. It shows little in the way of clipping/crackle or hiss and has very full sounding, intelligible dialogue.
Eureka has loaded this up with the usual amount of quality extras, including two of Hitchcock’s wartime French short films, his famous interview with Truffaut, and more.
- The Making of Lifeboat – Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat: The Theatre of War (1.33:1; 00:19:58) – Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter offer up their thoughts on the great filmmaker and the production of Lifeboat as do film historians and others acquainted with “Hitch.”
- Hitchcock/Truffaut – A 12-minute excerpt from Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut’s legendary 1962 conversation. They discuss Lifeboat and the circumstances surrounding Hitchcock’s wartime shorts (with translator Helen Scott).
- Bon Voyage (1944) (1.37:1; 1080p/24; 00:25:59)
- Aventure Malgache (1944) (1.37:1; 1080p/24; 00:31:15)
- Booklet: A 36-page booklet featuring new and exclusive essays on all three films by critics Bill Krohn, Arthur Mas, and Martial Pisani, plus film credits and information of viewing the film.
The Definitive Word
One of my all time favorite Hitchcock films, Lifeboat, not quite a thriller, not quite an adventure film, but definitely a riveting character study and mighty drama, is a virtual lesson in filmmaking craft. It stars a legendary cast of classic actors, not the least of which, Tallulah Bankhead, puts on one of the best starring roles of her career, and is a great watch from beginning credits to end credits. The Masters of Cinema release does it a great justice and adds even more prestige to an already marvelous series of excellent films.
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