20th Century Fox
Released: January 11, 1944
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: William Bendix, Walter Slezak, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Mary Anderson, Hume Cronyn, Heather Angel, Canada Lee
Tallulah's Role: Constance Porter
Alfred Hitchcock had first noticed Tallulah twenty years previously in The Dancers in London. He knew that her unique personality would be useful and he remembered her when he decided to do Lifeboat. It was the story of nine survivors of a torpedoed passenger ship adrift on a lifeboat during World World II. Tallulah played Constance Porter, a brash, sophisticated and materialistic journalist. She accepted the part immediately because she needed the money to build a swimming pool at Windows.
Lifeboat was a unique film because all of the action takes place on the lifeboat. It was filmed in a giant tank at the Fox studios with photographic backdrops taking the place of ocean and sky. Filming was quite an ordeal on the actors, who were continually pummeled with water and giant fans. Tallulah herself developed another dangerous case of pneumonia before filming was completed.
The film received much criticism upon its release and many were outraged that the character of the German submarine captain (played by Walter Slezak) appeared smarter than the Americans. Hitchcock disagreed and insisted that the film showed that the German's actions were accomplished by deviousness and that the German was defeated when the Americans united against him.
Lifeboat proved to be Tallulah's most memorable film role and her only substantial screen hit. She radiated glamour and commanded every scene in which she appeared (which was most of them). She won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actress, but was not nominated for an Academy Award. She felt that the reason for this was because she was an independent actress and did not have a contract with any of the Hollywood studios.
During the filming, the actors had to climb a ladder to get to the lifeboat set. Tallulah never wore underwear and delighted in shocking her fellow actors by climbing the ladder ahead of them. A woman reporter visiting the set was outraged by Tallulah's behavior and complained to studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who sent a man to talk to Hitchcock about the situation. Hitchcock, who was always amused by Tallulah's antics, refused to interfere and told the man that it wasn't his department. The man asked, "Well, whose department is it?" Hitchcock mused for a moment and then said, "Makeup, or perhaps hairdressing."
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