There is a lesson in the classic film Lifeboat - and it’s a fantastic movie as well. (Wikipedia photo)

Hitchcock classic a parable for our times

‘You fools, stop thinking of yourselves, think of the boat’

There is a lesson for our times, in Hitchcock’s 1944 film masterpiece, Lifeboat.

If you’ve never had the pleasure — and for whatever reason are kicking around the house going crackers — there is at least one engrossing hour and 37 minutes of classic cinema floating around out there, should you choose to find it online.

Let us build the set.

A merchant ship is torpedoed, mid-Atlantic, by a German submarine. It’s war.

A collection of castaways falls into a lifeboat, desperate.

It’s a ragtag group; people of different ages, ethnicities, and social and economic backgrounds.

Some of them die. Most of them live.

Central to their survival is Willy, played to perfection by Walter Slezak.

The film also stars a young and Canadian Hugh Cronyn, and a considerably older but nonetheless magnificent Tallulah Bankhead.

Willy is German, the captain of the sub that sunk the ship, that launched the boat, that made the movie that earned numerous Academy Award nominations.

The particularly analogous scene, to our current situation, occurs during a gale.

The wind howls, waves breach the gunwales, and everyone scrambles to secure their belongings and each another.

Willy takes charge.

Until this moment he’s been quarantined in the stern, and no one knew he spoke or understood English.

He seizes the tiller and shouts: “You fools, stop thinking of yourselves, think of the boat!”

Under Willy’s leadership the crisis eventually passes, and he remains in command while rowing the boat towards a German supply ship.

Spoiler alert. When the suborned prisoners-of-war discover Willy is hoarding fresh water and energy pills they collectively beat him and pitch his body overboard.

The film concludes with a rescue — naturally, it is Hollywood. The viewer comes to appreciate the relationships formed on this terrifying journey, the sacrifices made, and how the experience revealed and changed each character.

So you fools, stop thinking of yourselves, think of the boat.

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