Critics Consensus

Hitchcock proves he can wring suspense from the most confined of settings aboard a raft teeming with vivid personalities in this maritime thriller.



Total Count: 25


Audience Score

User Ratings: 9,393
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Movie Info

Seeking a creative challenge after several years' worth of fairly elaborate melodramas, director Alfred Hitchcock stages all of the action in Lifeboat in one tiny boat, adrift in the North Atlantic. The boat holds eight survivors of a Nazi torpedo attack: sophisticated magazine writer/photographer Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), Communist seaman John Kovac (John Hodiak), nurse Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson), mild-mannered radio-operator Stan (Hume Cronyn), seriously wounded Brooklynese stoker Gus Smith (William Bendix), insufferable-capitalist Charles Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), black-steward George Spencer (Canada Lee) and half-mad passenger Mrs. Higgins (Heather Angel), who carries the body of her dead baby. This adroitly calculated cross-section of humanity is reduced by one when Mrs. Higgins kills herself. After a day or so of floating aimlessly about, the castaways pick up another passenger, Willy (Walter Slezak), who is a survivor from the German U-boat. At first everyone assumes that Willy cannot speak English, but when the necessity arises he reveals himself to be conversant in several languages and highly intelligent; in fact, he was the U-boat's captain. As the only one on board with any sense of seamanship, Willy steers a course to his mother ship, while the others resign themselves to being prisoners of war. After it becomes necessary to amputate Gus's leg, Willy decides that the burly stoker is excess weight; while the others sleep, he tosses Gus overboard, watching dispassionately as the poor man drowns. When the rest of the passengers discover what he's done, all of them (with one significant exception) violently gang up on Gus, and once more, the lifeboat drifts about sans navigation. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi


Critic Reviews for Lifeboat

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (23) | Rotten (2)

  • 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.

    Oct 16, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • That old master of screen melodrama, Alfred Hitchcock, and Writer John Steinbeck have combined their distinctive talents in a tremendously provocative film.

    Mar 25, 2006 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • The characters are reasonably free of cliched personalities, so what happens between them is rarely predictable, and there are enough crises and tensions within the 96-minute running time to hold a viewer fully attentive.

    Dec 13, 2005
  • At times, the film seems on the verge of rising above its frankly propagandistic intentions, but it never really confronts the Darwinian themes built into the material.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…
  • Tallulah Bankhead returns to the world of cinema with an admirable performance in a difficult role. [Full review in Spanish]

    Sep 16, 2019 | Full Review…
  • Saddled with as thin a premise as one could envision, Lifeboat ultimately comes off as a disappointing endeavor that boasts few elements designed to capture and sustain the viewer's interest...

    Jul 31, 2016 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Lifeboat

  • Jul 02, 2016
    One of my favorite Hitchcock films. The drama, all taking place on a lifeboat, is gripping from beginning to end, Hitchcock's direction is top-form and I can't recall any other Hitch film with the emotional power of this movie. The entire cast shines, especially Tallulah Bankhand as the elitist journalist opposite John Hodiak as the blue-collar worker. This is a must-see film for lovers of cinema.
    Aldo G Super Reviewer
  • Apr 03, 2016
    An engaging chamber movie in which all action takes place inside a lifeboat, impressing us most with its technical achievement (if there was any doubt about Hitchcock's directing skills before it, this film certainly removed it) and Tallulah Bankhead standing out in a great cast.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Jan 10, 2015
    9 people became the only survivors of an unexplained event leading them to be stranded on a boat. Each one of them has a set of distinctive characteristics: A female writer who speaks German, a mother who lost her baby, an industrialist, an US Army nurse, a German American, hotheaded communist, a negro steward, a radio operator and a mysterious German sailor. With limited supply, dangerous environment and distrust of each other at hand, each one of them must attempt to work together to survive. Lifeboat is one of the less known gem of Hitchcock's filmography. the premise was very interesting and the characters were all unique and distinct. Psychology played an important role in the film, the sense of trust could have been easily obtained yet dismissed quickly. The problem with group think is also explored. I found the depiction of what a group can do together shocking. I was quite surprised to see it was Steinbeck who wrote the screenplay, it did have a sense of naturalism but Hitchcocked has reduced the premise to minimalism. The acting was fantastic, Bankhead had a wonderful performance.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Nov 25, 2013
    One of the better Hitchcocks, Lifeboat gives us a nice claustrophobic feel on a small craft in the middle of the ocean full of persons with mixed motivations. It is a classic setup for psychological tension and the cast finely delivers.
    John B Super Reviewer

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