Bosley Crowther uses Lifeboat as a case study in the issues he sees with the current state of the film industry. He questions why the screenwriter never receives the attention and the acclaim that the playwright does. With control firmly rooted in the hands of the producer and the director, a screenwriter may find his name attached to a project that is significantly altered from his original vision. Early criticism of Lifeboat came on the shoulders of both Hitchcock and Steinbeck. Steinbeck was a well known name, but for his novels not for his work in the film industry. Subsequently, his name was used to market the film even though he had no control and input on the final print. The lack of control is a situation that many Hollywood screenwriters could find themselves in.
Crowther’s analysis and comparison of Steinbeck’s original treatment of Lifeboat and the final script reveals the specifics of the changes Steinbeck that drove Steinbeck to seek the removal of his name from the film. Steinbeck’s tale was even more character and less plot driven then Hitchcock’s final film. The largest change is the democracies foe was not the Nazi but the ocean. The Nazi attempted take over was little more than a subplot which was handled after only one act of deception by the other survivors.
Crowther accuses Hitchcock and producer Macgowan of “preempting” Steinbeck’s “creative authority.” However, he acknowledges that under the current system the director and the producer have every right to change, for better or worse, a screenwriter’s original intent and characters. He places blame too not only the founders of the system, but the writers who do not do anything to change it. Crowther does not seek a system in which the producer has no control, as without his financing the film would not be made. He seeks for a more balanced industry in which the financial and creative input are on a more balanced footing.