TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 August 2012
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.