Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Jo Swirling (from a story by John Steinbeck)
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but for a precocious Chicago-born foreign correspondent adrift in the mid-Atlantic, they become a matter of survival. We first meet the glamorous Constance Porter propped up in the titular lifeboat amid the wreckage of a Bermuda-bound freighter which was sunk by a German –boat in spectacular fashion during the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s unnerving and rather witty film. She sports a lush mink coat and a flash Cartier bracelet, both of which will be offered up in due course to the other nine survivors who scramble aboard; the fur goes to a bereaved mother, the diamonds, to a sailor to use as very expensive bait.
It is, as Professor Drew Casper describes in his audio commentary, a classic case of “subversion of persona” and legendary screen icon Tallulah Bankhead gives it everything she’s got. Proudly declaring that she’s “practically immortal”, Constance gradually comes to the shocking realisation that she’s just like everyone else through the loss of all her worldly possessions and, indeed, her dignity. Her initial disappointment at seeing a ladder in her stocking is quickly overshadowed by the loss of her movie camera which is knocked out of her hands by the rugged, oil smeared seaman Kovac (John Hodiak). In time, she has a desperate fling with this hunky piece of rough trade and is even accused by him of ‘slumming it’ in his company. But before all that, she looses her mink, her trusty typewriter, even her lovely bottle of Cognac which she donates to dear old Gus (William Bendix) in preparation for the amputation of his leg.
The makeshift operation is conducted by Willie (Walter Slezak), the captain of the enemy U-boat, controversially plucked from the briney yet proving incredibly handy. Suddenly Tallulah is doing a Marlene impersonation, speaking fluent German and providing translation. In the final volatile years of the Second World War, Hitchcock was accused of being pro-Nazi for his treatment of Willie who he depicts as incredibly capable in contrast to the other characters whose egos constantly get in their way but what he was trying to do was present a microcosm of the allied war effort and rally the troops to unite. In one sense, it’s propaganda. In another, it’s masterful suspense. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a lot of fun too.