The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes #13
There were times – thankfully not many – when Alfred Hitchcock was moved to make a film solely to explore a technical gimmick that caught his fancy or to solve some purely cinematic problem.The most famous of these instances, 1948's Rope demonstrated just how disastrous such indulgences could be (in Technicolor, yet); for despite his oft-retailed and successfully marketed pose as the Master of Suspense, totally preoccupied with the mechanics of his craft (and then only for the purpose of manipulating audiences), Hitchcock's more everlasting creations carried what was at least an equivalent interest in matters beyond their physical production. But explaining to an interviewer the forces that drove intensely emotional works like Vertigo, or his 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, would not have been an easy thing to do (assuming for the moment that such things can even be expressed); explaining them to hero worshippers like François Truffaut was a doomed enterprise from the start. It was better, safer, far less strenuous to pretend he only cared about montage and Macguffens.
It was, if nothing else, one way of staying alive in the hopeless minefield of Hollywood.
The Hitchcock/Truffaut Tapes make a limp return to this blog with a discussion of that "microcosm of the War," 1944's Lifeboat, a film whose existence Hitchcock freely admits was inspired by the challenge its rather limited and claustrophobic setting posed. And for once it's easy to take him at his word, because regardless of how many defenders it has among the faithful, Lifeboat has almost nothing going for it, being an apallingly simplistic wartime fable – with none of the rude emotional power that often drives such primal narratives – populated by one tiresome stock character after another. What else could have attracted him to the project? So taken was Hitchcock with surmounting the technical issues inherent to a film set entirely within the confines of a lifeboat, in fact, that he seems blissfully unaware (even in 1962) of just how hackneyed John Steinbeck's story and Jo Swerling's screenplay really were.
True to form, François Truffaut applauds Hitchcock's labor on one of the worst films he had ever put his name to (while noting the rather limited dimensions of its human landscape), declaring it (get this) "psychological" and highly "moral" . . . this from someone who during the war frequently professed his admiration for Vichy's original old goat, Marshall Petain.
A discussion of Lifeboat's largely negative critical reception . . . and Hitchcock's brief return to Britain to make two wartime propaganda films (Aventure malgache and Bon voyage) . . . leads into a somewhat tedious footslog through 1945's Spellbound.