Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, continuing today our bout of summer silliness marked by our trivial pursuit of Alfred Hitchcock cameos in the director’s movies.
We’ve just run a quiz asking you to match his many brief, often humorous bit appearances with the specific pictures that included them. We discovered, however, that one of his titles we left off the list posed, let’s say, a special challenge.
In 1944, Hitch was filming Lifeboat on a special set on the Twentieth Century Fox lot. The fact that the production largely confined to just one set pleased Darryl F. Zanuck, the supremely cost-conscious head of the studio.
Nonetheless, the Zanuck-Hitchcock combination was not a happy one. The two shared many disagreements about Lifeboat, including one about the movie’s pacing. Zanuck wanted to speed up the action, wrote the mogul’s biographer Mel Gussow. The result: It was the only time Hitchcock worked for Fox.
The film stars Tallulah Bankhead (above) and John Hodiak (with Bankhead below) and features William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Henry Hull, former boxer Canada Lee, Heather Angel, Mary Anderson and Hume Cronyn.
Our cameo “complication” arose because the entire action of the film takes place on a lifeboat in the Atlantic after a ship has been torpedoed by the Nazis.
At first there are eight survivors, a motley bunch representing different occupations: actress, journalist, businessman, radio operator, nurse, a sailor and engineer with leftist political views. Then a pushy German sailor (Slezak) discovered in the water is picked up after the U-boat that attacked the passenger ship also sank. He takes over the lifeboat. What to do? See the movie to see how it all comes out.
But no sign of Hitchcock in or out of the craft. So how was the director able to accomplish one of signature movie cameos in Lifeboat? Hitchcock was an extraordinary director but even he lacked the capacity to walk on water.
He solved the dilemma in truly inventive fashion.
Note carefully the back page of the journal Bendix is reading in part to stave off hunger pains that are creeping up on him. Take a close look at that advertisement for a diet program called “Reduco Obesity Slayer.” There, in before and after photos, is — Hitchcock. Presto, cameo completed.
But that begs the question: what was Bendix doing reading a newspaper in a lifeboat adrift in the North Atlantic?