William Bendix did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gus Smith in Lifeboat.
Lifeboat has a rather strong ensemble and I easily could have chosen Walter Slezak who gives a strong performance as a charismatic but still treacherous German. William Bendix though is the beating heart of the film as Gus who comes aboard the ship with a badly wounded leg. Bendix takes a remarkable approach to the part of Gus in that he plays him as an up beat sort of guy by nature who is fending off depression from his wounded leg and the whole predicament of being on the life boat. Bendix gives a wonderfully natural performance as Gus and every moment that brings him into focus Bendix brings a strong emotional impact.
Among the men and women of the crew Bendix stands outs through his performance as goodhearted Gus. He brings an innate likability and even his hatred of the Germans is shown by Bendix to come from a well meaning man. Bendix lightens the boat up in a most particular, and wonderful way through his presence. Even as Gus has to face the truth that he will probably lose his leg, and face the idea of losing his girlfriend whose favorite thing is dancing, Bendix still keeps a positive nature behind it all. The fears, the grief, and the pain is all there in Bendix's performance all the time, but he always keeps it within the context of Gus who in his heart is an optimistic man even if his current situation suggests he should be otherwise.
When Gus's leg needs to amputated Bendix has an amazing scene when Gus tries to prepare himself by drinking a bottle of whiskey. This probably could be used for one of the best drunk scenes ever given both on a technical and emotional level. On the technical level Bendix is extremely smart in the way he eases into Gus's is drunkenness when he drinks away the bottle. He doesn't skip a step in it and Bendix is believable the whole time. William Bendix is great as well on an emotional level as he shows a man reaching to have some final tender moments while he still has his leg. Bendix gives is outstanding through the simple emotional honesty he brings to Gus as he becomes inebriated.
William Bendix's after that spectacular scene takes his place in the boat as a rather quiet figure who just is slowly dying from thirst, starvation and his injury. Bendix's role is reduced but he is hardly forgotten. Every time the camera turn to Bendix, Bendix is quite moving in portraying the spirited Gus frankly slowly lose his spirit. Almost all of the actors are quite excellent in showing the exhaustion, but Bendix is the most effective because of how well he suggested the bright nature of Gus at the beginning of the film. Bendix's does not make Gus change his nature, he is always good-natured even to the very end of the film, he is far more heartbreaking by showing it though instead diminish in strength.
Bendix builds perfectly to the point in which Gus is at his rope end when he spots that the German has been hiding drinkable water the entire time. Bendix makes Gus's final scene a truly haunting end to his character as we see Gus, without any strength left as well as being disoriented, attempt to question the German's selfish actions. Bendix's performance is absolutely heartbreaking particularly with the final desperate cries for help as Gus meets his end. The fact that there is nothing especially notable about Gus's demise only adds to the sadness of the scene. Bendix does not have the most screen time in the film, and his character is far from the most flamboyant but Bendix stands out strongly among the ensemble by giving just a quiet genuine portrayal of the tragic story of a failed survivor.