It is 1942; we are in the height of war. Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) and his best buddy are putting out a mysterious fire. They are assisted by a stranger Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd). When it turns out to be sabotage, naturally the authorities have to accuse Barry. Barry’s only chance of survival is to follow clues across the country to find fry. On his travels he gets teemed up with Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane) who wants to do her patriotic duty and turn Barry in to the authorities. You can not tell the good guys from the bad guys until it is too late.
Can Barry convince Pat that he is innocent?
Can they ever find Fry?
Even if they do find Fry will the authorities ever believe that Barry is innocent?
Be prepared for a lot of long winded speeches from both sides they do not add or subtract form the story.
This 1942 film from master director Alfred Hitchcock is another rollercoaster ride for the audience and probably fits more appropriately into his 'adventure yarn' set of films, rather than his 'suspense' classics (although the distinction is, of course, rarely black and white). Saboteur also represents an admirable amalgam of many of the Hitch's favourite film themes, in effect mixing that of the man on the run (The 39 Steps, North By North West), the innocent man accused (The Wrong Man, and again, The 39 Steps and North By North West), and the upholding of democratic values against the threat of (usually Nazi) totalitarianism (Foreign Correspondent, Notorious, Sabotage, The 39 Steps and many others). However, whilst it contains enough typically brilliant set-pieces, moments of dialogue and other touches to keep all but the most demanding of fans happy, for me, the film does slightly overdo the 'self-righteous (pro-democracy)' speechmaking, thereby relegating it a touch below the great man's absolutely best work.
Saboteur's (now much used) narrative begins by the framing, in a supposedly accidental fire, of innocent airplane factory worker Barry Kane (a proficient, rather than outstanding, Robert Cummings) by undercover Nazi agent, Fry (an altogether more impressive Norman Lloyd). Thereafter, Kane (eventually accompanied by the initially reluctant - and disbelieving - glamour model Pat Martin - in a good turn by Priscilla Lane) is pursued by the authorities, whilst by turns trying to shake off, and then convince of his allegiance, the film's group of Nazi collaborators. Whilst there are some holes (and moments of belief stretching) in the plot, Saboteur contains plenty of brilliant moments. In typical fashion, Hitch has peppered the film with some hilarious cameo roles (none funnier than Murray Alper's turn as the blabbermouth truck driver) and some memorable set-pieces. The latter include the superb scene where, during his flight, Kane encounters in a remote dwelling blind man Philip Martin (played with masterly assurance by veteran actor Vaughan Glaser), who steadfastly defends Kane ('men are innocent until proved guilty') against the suspicions of his niece, the aforementioned Pat. Similarly, Hitch is at his idiosyncratic best by including the scene where Kane and Martin encounter a travelling circus (bearded woman, Siamese twins, human skeleton and all).
In addition to the solid performances of his lead pairing (incidentally, Hitch apparently wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for these roles), excellent turns are provided by many of the film's 'baddies' - Otto Kruger is the epitome of softly spoken evil as Nazi prime mover, Charles Tobin; similarly, Alan Baxter is totally convincing in his depiction of Aryan perfection as fellow Nazi, (the ironically named) Freeman, whilst Ian Wolfe is also quietly menacing as head butler Robert. A final word on the MacGuffins (of which there are plenty) - memorable ones for me include Kane reading Fry's name on the dropped envelope, Kane coming across the telegram at Tobin's house indicating Fry's whereabouts and (best of all) Martin's attempt to draw attention to her plight by dropping her message-inscribed sheet of paper out of the window of the New York skyscraper.
Then, to cap the film, just when you might have felt that the 3rd quarter was dragging slightly, Hitch gives us his Statue Of Liberty ending, one of his absolute finest moments, (for me) ranking alongside the crop duster in North By North West and the Psycho shower scene.
Originally conceived pre-Pearl Harbour, Saboteur would have been a decidedly different film if shot in the manner which it was originally intended. Indeed it may not have received the green light at all given that this was the kind of "message" picture that Isolationist senators had widely denounced. Whilst US citizens broadly supported England's plight in the second world war, the Neutrality Act ensured that pro-British activity in Hollywood remained off the screen.
Of course some typically adroit machinations by Hitchcock had meant that Foreign Correspondent (1941) had somehow escaped the list of Hollywood Films targeted in this campaign but there is no doubt that the events of December 7th, 1941 meant that Hitchcock could suddenly be a lot more explicit with Saboteur than he otherwise might have been able to be.
The film itself was a "loan-out" of Hitchcock by David O'Selznick to Universally and whilst this meant that producer Jack Skirball could allow Hitchcock to make a Hitchcock film the money issues were onerous from the start. Universal had to pay $120,000 to secure the rights for the movie and Hitchcock, before complicated bonuses and percentages added to the costs. All this meant that the casting had to be decidedly B-list; the dreams of Henry Fonda had to wait.
Robert Cummings took the lead and although Hitchcock would later tell Truffaut that Cummings was only a "competent performer" he would return to a Hitchcock movie a decade later meaning that he can't have been all that bad in the director's eyes. The main problems with casting Cummings is that all ideas of luring either Barbara Stanwyck or Margaret Sullivan (who both received drafts of the script) died as neither would countenance playing opposite a "lesser" leading man in a meatier role than theirs. Priscilla Lane was the alternative, who was billed above Cummings, from a list of less, cheaper actresses. Similarly Harry Carey declined to play the villain, offended that Hitchcock would even offer him the role of an out and out American traitor. Timetable and studio pressures led to Otto Kruger, who offered none of the surprise element that Carey would have given, always a disappointment to Hitchcock.
Given all the problems with the budget and casting then, you'd be forgiven for not expecting much. But for all the fact that the budget was restrained (not, admittedly, a unique experience for Hitch either before or after this), the leading players were too bland and one-dimensional for Hitchcock's liking and the script was flawed at best it turned out to be a really rather good movie.
Yes it can all at times seem a little like The 39 Steps remade in an American setting (the wrong man setting, the chases taking in landmarks etc) and the plot is loose at best, not standing up to closer inspection at all really, but it remains a very entertaining movie. Cummings and Lane, whilst not being a Donat & Carroll, have a great chemistry that has you rooting for them every step of the way and is enough to drag the movie through the moments that don't really work.
There's some typically great Hitchcock flourishes to enjoy as well; the struggle in the shipyard that takes place in silence is wonderful and look out for the giant billboard signs that are quite humourous within the context of the story as well.
Hitchcock never really rated the movie and that might explain why the critical reception to it, both now and then, has been less than warm. But whilst some might see the lack of big stars, the rickety sets and a less than tight script as reasons to put this film down, others might well point to the exciting action, a genuinely witty script and the totally disarming way in which total propaganda is there at every step of the way but never feels forced or preachy. In my eyes, this is one of Hitchcock's forgotten almost classics.
on 24 November 2000
The film was shot in 1942, just about the time when the USA entered the WW2,so with that in mind and put in context this is a very interesting film with historical hindsight.
This is a familiar theme throughout many of Hitchcocks films, a man framed for something he didnt do,but cannot go to the police,as he is not sure he will be believed,and he cant trust them, so then tries to clear his name before he is caught.
This film came many years before North By Northwest,which was a much more famous and classically noted film, but has the same theme running through it.Again, In the latter film, Hitch wishes to convey the vastness of the countyside when Cary Grant is attacked by the crop dusting aeroplane in the wide open spaces with little or no cover to hide.
This theme of man accused and trying to clear himself was very successfully approached many years later in The Fugitive for example, the innocent man being chased by the authrities who keep getting closer all the time,whilst he is trying to clear himself.
Visually the film is very rich, with a huge amount of scenes and locations. Hitch uses the camera lens to great effect when he shot some scenes with a huge telephoto lens from a great distance away, which really does imply the vastness of the country, and the mammoth task our lead "hero" is up against.
The famous Hitchcock humour is very evident,when the circus freakshow have their screen debut. There are two Siamese twins that are not talking to each other; the curlers that are seen in the bearded lady's beard when she turns in for the night.
Another recurring theme in Hitchs films is the grand climax in a public place, this time Radio City music hall,and at the Statue of Liberty, where the finale is held.
It is not the finest Hitch film ever made, but is quite linear and easy to understand, good guys and bad guys, and entertaining to the end nontheless, as in many Hitchcock films, you arent really sure until the final credits roll that you are sure of the outcome.
on 6 June 2005
Exciting wartime propaganda, a typically polished thriller that now looks like a dry run for the later masterpiece NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). A chase thriller across America with the familar Hitchcockian theme of the innocent man framed by circumstantial evidence, who has to evade pursuers (Nazis keen to conceal their dastardly espionage plans) and police alike, whilst fighting to clear his name.
Amongst several memorable and beautifully staged set-pieces, the lavish charity ball sequence, a bizare encounter with a troupe of circus freaks (a nod to TOD BROWNING's marvellous 1932 film FREAKS?), and the famous suspense-filled finale atop the Statue of Liberty, stand out. Terrifically entertaining Hitchcock film!
on 16 January 2015
A good thriller, as tense as the Hitchcock 39 Steps of a few years previously, though rather lengthier. There are similarities between the two, not only with an innocent man on the run against villains and police, but familiar scenes; attached to a blonde who is initially suspicious of him, running into a seemingly benevolent old man and a griping climax. The villains are not exactly cut out bad guys and are shown to be human after all. The film is not about the actual saboteur - he appears fleetingly at the beginning and then at the end and we know virtually nothing about him nor his motivations. There's also quite a few patriotic speeches (aka those in the same company's Sherlock Holmes films produced in WW2) and while these are understandable then, they feel rather blatant now. Yet the film moves along at a good pace and provides solid if not brilliant entertainment.
Some good moments but overall was it bit too drawn out and the close shaves to implausible.
This 1942 black and white Hitchcock film follow aerospace a worker wrongly accused of sabotage and he goes on the run on to try to piece together what happened and prove his innocents. Very much in line with general plot of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.
Performances are good and there's some nice shot from Hitchcock (the opening black smoke especially) and does paint a compelling picture of a man forced into a corner and gives a good sense of control by the baddies. However I didn't really buy into from 10 minutes in. Once we came across Patricia Lane and her on screen dad it got better; picking up with a series of interesting characters . However it did not sustain that level of interest and the scraps and coincidences got increasingly unrealistic and grating, especially the ball room scene. It felt very much of its time.
If you like old films and or Hitchcock it worth ago but don't set you expectations sky high.
on 21 March 2010
This was Hitch's remake of the 39 steps for an american market. Everyman hero on the run for murder he didn't commit. Beautiful blonde (who inevitable gets handcuffed to our hero) A shadowy secret society (the bruderbund)menacing the free world. Hitch was perfecting the chase movie for many years after this, with "episodes" creating drama, comedy and tension along the way, the blind Uncle, the circus performers, the blundering meeting with Mr big around the swimming pool, why fix it if it ain't broke? And of course the finale is magic.
on 17 December 2013
A good story. Classic Hitch. Don't know too much about the making, but one of Hitchcocks first and some of the storyline was a little disjointed, but still a good insite into the masterfull mind of a great director.
on 31 October 2004
Having never watched half the films before in this collection I was very happy that I have now discovered them. Each film boasts a great documentary on the man and the making of the film that is presented by hitchcock's daughter.
One of my favourite's from the collection was the humourous 'The trouble with Harry.' This film didn't do all that well in the US on it's release but was a rave across Europe. The story focuses on a dead body 'Harry' and the trials and tribulations of the village folk trying to cover up his death from the authorities...doesn't sound like a riot but IT IS. The cast is great, and is Shirley MacLaine's debut film. In the collection we have the classics, Rear Window, The Man who knew too much etc.... and there is a bonus disk 'Pyscho.'
I only hoped that Vertigo was in this collection.... but there's Hitchcock box set 2 . Buy this box set, it's worth every penny.