The Dark Side of the Genius lends insight into Hitchcock during the early days of production of Lifeboat. David O. Selznick had worked out a two-picture deal with 20th Century-Fox for Hitchcock to direct Lifeboat and The Keys of the Kingdom. The second film was never made, as Hitchcock delayed starting the productions in a hope to receive more money. In the wake of the political fallout of Lifeboat, it’s unlikely that Fox would have wanted to shell out extra money for such an initially poorly received film.
While Fox pushed screenwriters to script Lifeboat, Hitchcock sought after novelists. Before Steinbeck, Hitchcock tried to convince Ernest Hemingway to take the project. Hemingway declined. Lifeboat is known as a picture Hitchcock saw as one of his cinematic challenges, putting him under the constraints of a single set and compositions of mainly close-up and medium shots. However, it seems as if he was also enamored with the idea of working with the additional constraint of creative input from an artist as well-respected and a name as well known as his.
With two deaths in Hitchcock’s family around the time of the production of Lifeboat, the theme of sudden loss and tragedy seems like a likely inspiration for the film to focus on the aftermath of a steady ship being thrown into turmoil. The impact of the deaths in Hitchcock’s own new concern towards mortality can be seen in the rapid weight loss regiment he undertook before Lifeboat’s production. The aftermath of this can be seen in the Reduco newspaper add in which he appears in the before and after picture, slimming down one-hundred pounds.
The book features an anecdote about lead Tallulah Bankhead’s exhibitionist behavior on the set of Lifeboat. As magazines sought to do features on the film, reporters and the studio higher-ups were not nearly as pleased as the male crew members about Bankhead’s behavior, with one reporter commenting about the rumors of indecent behavior in Hollywood being true. This taken in the context of the era of the PCA shows the careful attention the public paid to not only film content but their production environment and stars’ off-screen “performances.”