Lifeboat: Special Edition (1944)

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Released 18-Jan-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Dr Drew Casper (Professor Of American Film At USC)
Web Links
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-A Talk With Hitchcock
Gallery-Newspaper Ads & Articles, Display Accessories, Promotions
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1944
Running Time 93:33
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (42:28)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Tallulah Bankhead
William Bendix
Walter Slezak
Mary Anderson
John Hodiak
Henry Hull
Heather Angel
Hume Cronyn
Canada Lee
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Hugo Friedhofer


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Lifeboat is something of a forgotten Alfred Hitchcock film, made during an experimental stage of his career, and released during World War II. In a remarkably bold move, Hitchcock set the entire film within the confines of a lifeboat, populated by a mixed bag of survivors from a transport ship which was torpedoed by a German submarine, which was itself destroyed in the attack. The popularity of so many of Hitchcock's previous and subsequent films tends to overshadow this film, which is quite a shame, as it is a good story told well. The narrative is tightly structured, interweaving strong character arcs, and cleverly mixing melodrama with intrigue, violence, and dramatic thrills.

    The film's credits play over the sight of the slowly sinking ship, and then the film proper begins with Constance Porter, 'Connie' for short, played by star of the stage Tallulah Bankhead, alone and quiet in a lifeboat, smoking a cigarette, kept warm in a nice mink coat. She is soon joined by John Kovac, played by would-be movie star John Hodiak, who will be the personification of American masculinity. Within a few minutes they help to rescue Stanley (Hume Cronyn), Alice (Mary Anderson), Gus (William Bendix), Charles D. Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), George (Canada Lee), and Mrs. Higley (Heather Angel). Representing all classes of American culture, this motley crew is faced with a moral dilemma when they fish another survivor from amongst the flotsam and jetsam: a sailor from the German submarine, Willy (Walter Slezak).

    Hitchcock wisely commissioned John Steinbeck to write the story, knowing full well the prestige of a bestselling author's name on the marquee, but most of Steinbeck's draft would be ditched when the screenplay was re-written by Jo Swerling and Hitchcock, along with uncredited additions by Ben Hecht. The film was shot entirely on film stages, in a large tank, with painted backdrops and dump tanks to provide effects and atmosphere, and in front of a front projection screen. Considering the limits of the technology used for the process shots, it's a nice surprise that all the shots match up so well. Despite the confines of the boat, Hitchcock always keeps the story interesting, managing to find inventive ways to frame the action and to edit the shots to keep the narrative moving and the drama central.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Lifeboat is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced, which is just what you want for a film originally shot in the 1.37:1 ratio, and in black and white.

    Much of the sharpness varies in this transfer and overall it suffers from print damage. It is quite old, now over 60 years old, however it is still disappointing that a better print wasn't found or some restoration done.

    For the first two to three minutes there is noticeable moisture damage to the print, and this problem recurs again at 9:30 - 9:40, as well as later during the film. At the start of the film, there is supposed to be a lot of smoke in the air, the result of the shipwreck, which creates a lot of softness in the image. This is probably the intention, due to the narrative requirements, however it is also very grainy. Later in the film the transfer is much sharper, however the grain does persist. There is also some mild edge enhancement, which fortunately never gets too distracting. At 49:36 - 50:12 there is a strange edge or halo around Hume Cronyn's face, which doesn't seem to be edge enhancement, but it is very noticeable and distracting because it is during a quiet conversation between his character and Alice.

    As mentioned, there are a number of film artefacts, such as the moisture damage, plus the usual array of scratches and marks from a long life.

    The subtitles are slightly inaccurate in parts, but are mostly acceptable.

    This is an RSDL disc, and the layer change occurs at 42:28, very quickly during a scene change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are only two audio tracks on this disc: the default English, which is Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s) surround encoded, and the audio commentary.

    The audio is fine, without many problems with hiss or distortion, but the surround encoding seems mostly unnecessary for what was originally a mono track. The rears find themselves useful occasionally to provide atmospheric effects, such as during a violent storm, and for some of the music.

    The dialogue quality is excellent, as each actor clearly and properly enunciates almost every syllable, and there were no obvious problems with the audio sync.

    Hugo Friedhofer composed the music, which is quite subdued for much of the film, and is never intrusive.

    If you have your subwoofer set to pick up some of the low frequency from your other speakers there is a little bit of extra support for atmospheric and explosive effects, but typically for a film of this vintage there is not a lot of subwoofer action.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

 

Menu

    The menus on both discs are 16x9, and accompanied by music from the film.

Disc One:

Audio Commentary - Drew Casper (Professor of Film, USC)

    Drew Casper, who is the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Professor of American Film from USC, who provided such an annoying and tedious commentary on White Heat, is back but this time his commentary is more subdued, and therefore more bearable. It is obviously partly scripted, however the content does tend to match the onscreen action. He occasionally lapses into silence, a problem of letting his enthusiasm for the film get in the way of keeping the commentary going. He is very knowledgeable about Lifeboat, Hitchcock, and his films, so the commentary is mostly interesting, and adds to the appreciation of this film.

Disc Two:

A Talk with Hitchcock (49:37)

    Broken into two parts, this is an interview between Hitchcock and Fletcher Markle. Markle asks Hitchcock a number of decent questions and gets humorous and entertaining responses, as well as a good insight into his motivations. Amongst Hitchcock's film discussed, there is a lot of reference to Psycho and The Birds, and they discuss his new film still in production, Marnie, which dates this interview as 1963-64. Although I'm quite sure Markle really was present to ask the questions, the huge difference in the quality of the footage, where Hitchcock is very grainy and Markle is pristine, suggests that the reverse shots were filmed separately. Hitchcock's office was probably not big enough to fit two separate camera setups. Unfortunately, this feature is almost 50 minutes long, but is only one chapter. The audio is quite poor as well.

The Making of Lifeboat (20:00)

    This is a good little documentary, populated with a number of talking heads, such as historians, biographers, and academics. They cover topics such as Hitchcock's efforts to serve the war effort by making a pro-Ally film about World War II, his avoidance of interference by Darryl F. Zanuck, trouble on set, particularly from Tallulah Bankhead and her preference for appearing on set sans underwear.

Gallery

    The stills gallery is broken up into five sections. The first explains the nature and original of the stills, and the next four sections are: Newspaper Ads and Articles, Display Accessories, and Promotions. There is a huge and varied array of promotional posters and a number of newspaper articles with stories related to the making of Lifeboat. Very interesting.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of Lifeboat was released October 18, 2005, and is very similar to what we have been offered, with some important differences. Firstly, the Region 1 is only on a single, dual-layered disc, and comes with the same stereo audio track we have, but it also has the original monaural track. Since we only have the one track on the local disc, it should have been the mono. Most reviews indicate the same assessment of the video and audio transfers. The Region 1 also has a trailer and Spanish subtitles. However, the Region 4 comes off as the slightly better option: it is presented on two discs, which obviously will favour the bit rate of this transfer, and more importantly, it comes with the A Talk with Hitchcock extra. Unless you really want the mono track, the trailer, or the Spanish subtitles, stick with the local disc.

Summary

    Lifeboat is a very good Hitchcock film, often disregarded or forgotten, about a group of people trapped in the tight confines of a lifeboat when their ship is torpedoed by a German submarine during World War II.

    The video quality starts off as very poor, but then improves, and is overall quite acceptable.

    The audio quality is fine, but unexceptional.

    The extras are very good, and include a commentary, and two documentaries.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Friday, February 24, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationSherwood
SpeakersSherwood

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