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Hitchcock made at least 11 films about the ordinary man, wrongly
accused, on the run (sometimes really running, sometimes not) to prove
his innocence in a situation beyond his control, the first one being
"The 39 Steps", which really made him popular in Great Britain. It
really is his signature theme.
Others include "Young and Innocent", "Saboteur", "Spellbound", "Stage Fright", "Strangers on a Train", "I Confess", "To Catch a Thief", "The Wrong Man", "North by Northwest", and finally "Frenzy". "Saboteur" starts Robert Cummings as Barry Kane, a wartime aircraft plant worker during wartime accused of murdering his co-worker and best friend during an act of sabotage on the plant. He meets up with model Patricia Martin, played by actress Priscilla Lane, during his run from the law, and later, of course, the various Nazi/Fascist sympathizers along the way.
"Saboteur" is mainly like "The 39 Steps", even including similar plot devices such as handcuffs, the blonde who doesn't trust the main character in the beginning, a race across the country (in one case London to Scotland, and in the other California to New York), and meeting the "colorful" locals along the way. And so, just like "The Man Who Knew Too Much", I believe this is an American remake of one of Hitchcock's earlier works.
I think Robert Cummings was chosen because he comes across as a very ordinary American, sort of an "everyman" with whom the audience can identify. I like Priscilla Lane because her character is a more involved in the action than Madeline Carroll in "The 39 Steps" and Ruth Roman in "Strangers on a Train". As mentioned elsewhere, though, Otto Kruger steals the show as the villain. I also liked Vaughan Glaser's performance as the blind uncle; his lines are great. There are some funny touches all along the way for some comic relief, such as road signs featuring Priscilla Lane's character on them, and circus sideshow performers, and the truck driver, Murray Alper. Contrary to other opinions here, there aren't too many characters who believe Barry Kane's innocence immediately.
There are some slow parts, mainly when the action first moves to New York, but it picks up quickly when the last planned act of the fifth columnists gets underway.
It's one of my favorite films from Hitchcock (I put it in my top 5), especially in these days of the new war on terrorism. I think it hits home.
It makes you think, "Could my coworker be involved in something evil?" In fact, one of the movie posters for "Saboteur" proclaimed "Watch Out for the Man behind your back!" Imagine how that played in the mind of adults during the Second World War.
After Hitchcock's successful first American film, Rebecca based upon Daphne DuMarier's lush novel of gothic romance and intrigue, he returned to some of the more familiar themes of his early British period - mistaken identity and espionage. As the U.S. settled into World War II and the large scale 'war effort' of civilians building planes, weaponry and other necessary militia, the booming film entertainment business began turning out paranoid and often jingoistic thrillers with war time themes. These thrillers often involved networks of deceptive and skilled operators at work in the shadows among the good, law abiding citizens. Knowing the director was at home in this espionage genre, producer Jack Skirball approached Hitchcock about directing a property he owned that dealt with corruption, war-time sabotage and a helpless hero thrust into a vortex of coincidence and mistaken identity. The darker elements of the narrative and the sharp wit of literary maven Dorothy Parker (during her brief stint in Hollywood before returning to her bohemian roots in NYC) who co-authored the script were a perfect match for Hitchcock's sensibilities.
This often neglected film tells the story of the unfortunate 25 year old Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) who, while at work at a Los Angeles Airplane Factory, meets new employee Frank Frye (Norman Lloydd) and moments later is framed for committing sabotage. Fleeing the authorities who don't believe his far-fetched story he meets several characters on his way to Soda City Utah and finally New York City. These memorable characters include a circus caravan with a car full of helpful 'freaks' and a popular billboard model Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane) who, during the worst crisis of his life as well as national security, he falls madly in love with! Of course in the land of Hitchcock, Patricia, kidnapped by the supposed saboteur Barry, falls for her captor thus adding romantic tension to the mix.
In good form for this outing, Hitchcock brews a national network of demure old ladies, average Joes, and respectable businessmen who double as secret agent terrorists that harbor criminals, pull guns and detonate bombs to keep things moving. It's a terrific plot that takes its time moving forward and once ignited, culminates in one of Hitchcock's more memorable finales. Look for incredibly life like NYC tourist attractions (all of which were recreated by art directors in Hollywood due to the war-time 'shooting ban' on public attractions). While Saboteur may not be one of Hitchcock's most well known films, it's a popular b-movie that is certainly solid and engaging with plenty of clever plot twists and as usual - terrific Hitchcock villains. Remember to look for Hitchcock's cameo appearance outside a drug store in the second half of the film. Hitchcock's original cameo idea that was shot (him fighting in sign language with his 'deaf' wife) was axed by the Bureau of Standards and Practices who were afraid of offending the deaf!
Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur is not one of his best-regarded films; made
between two vastly more popular and critically praised pictures, Suspicion
and Shadow Of a Doubt, it's generally regarded as a lesser effort. I agree
that the later film is groundbreaking, drawing Hitchcock wholly into the
American mainstream for the first time, but Saboteur is in its way at least
as lively as Suspicion; its chief flaw being its less than charismatic star
players, Bob Cummings and Priscilla Lane.
In Saboteur we find Hitchcock feeling his way around America, literally, as its lead character travels from California to New York in search of an arsonist for whose crime he was accused. Cummings is very youthful here, and quite engaging. His boyishness (but not immaturity) perfectly suits the character he is portraying, and seems appropriate, as the director, though middle-aged, was in the process of reinventing himself, and an older, more established star might have thrown things off. Priscilla Lane's spunky heroine, which not a typical type for the director, was very much a common type in American films at the time; and she and Cummings provide an openness and a youth the director needed both in his life and work at this time. I cannot imagine older, more solid types,--Cooper and Stanwyck for instance--doing any better, as they would have, between them, carried, well, too much baggage.
As is the norm in Hitchcock's films, nothing is as it appears. Where Saboteur differs from his better known films is that the audience is let in on the game early. Though Cummings is an accused arsonist, we know that he is innocent. The villains become apparent fairly soon; and the movie hinges more on its plot than its ironies. What pleasures there are are incidental, and here the Master does not disappoint. There is an interesting, Tod Browningish interlude with some circus freaks, who help Cummings elude capture. In another scene, reminiscent of James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein, Cummings spends some time in the cottage of a blind man, who, as it turns out, is Lane's uncle. Was the director perhaps studying key American films of the previous decade? Whatever the case, these and other offbeat and discursive aspects of the movie give it a playfulness and variety, which, when one adds the factor of quite youthful leads, makes the picture seem like the work of a younger man, still learning his craft.
The film's later scenes, in New York, are more suspenseful and typical of the director, as the picture gradually becomes more Hitchockian as it moves along. In the end I find it a satisfying work; and as neither Cummings nor Lane has a dark side as an actor, neither does the movie have one. It is deliberately lightweight, and I suspect semi-experimental; an attempt by Hitchcock to see if he could pull off, in an American setting, the sort of story he had done so well in England. He succeeded admirably. The next logical step: Shadow Of a Doubt, a film in which the main character travels east to west, and with a wholly different set of values and plans.
The story is spelled out elsewhere -- Cummings being mistaken for a
saboteur and getting mixed up with a real gang -- so I'll pretty much
skip it and just add a few comments.
First, it's identifiably Hitchcock, but is an example of his lighthearted thrillers not his more ambitious dramas. Think of it as being in the same class as, say, "The Lady Vanishes" or "North by Northwest." Aside from a speech Robert Cummings makes to the Nazis at the mansion -- about "you and your kind" -- none of this is meant to be taken very seriously.
This is also the first use Hitchcock makes of an American landmark or even an identifiable American landscape in his films. It isn't his first use of landmarks as setting for a chase, since he earlier used the British Museum. He does better here with his mockup of the Statue of Liberty, which also carries a (rather heavy) symbolic weight.
The score is kind of sweet and musically a little tricky, but there is no music at all while Cummings is holding the villain Norman Loyd by the sleeve at the top of the statue. The scene cries out for explosive dramatic suspenseful collossal stupendous orchestration -- and Hitchcock keeps it silent except for a few whispered words from Loyd.
The plot has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese but it doesn't matter much. "The FBI arrived at my ranch," says the suave Otto Krueger. "Luckily I was just leaving." The mother of the victim at the beginning seems to believe that Cummings, the victim's best friend, may have deliberately murdered him. A hole has been drilled in the wall of a deserted shack so that Cummings can find a telescope and look through the hole and see what appears to be Boulder Dam and cotton to what's going on. Oh, well.
The makeup department should have been penalized (or drafted). In some scenes Cummings is so plastered with makeup that he resembles a silent screen hero like Valentino. And sometimes the delectably cream-fed Priscilla Lane looks almost ordinary.
The best performances are from Otto Krueger, who switched from music to acting, fortunately, and from Alan Baxter as the soft spoken and not entirely unsympathetic heavy. We first see Baxter as he enters the abandoned shack at Soda City with Clem Bevins, brushing the dust fussily from the sleeve of his dark jacket. And he has a truly amazing conversation with Cummings in the back seat of a car while they are being driven to New York. It's a complete non sequitur dealing with Baxter's two young sons. He describes them lovingly and then talks about how much he wanted a girl. He asks Cummings if it would be acceptable to raise a boy nowadays with long hair, adding that when he himself was a child he had beautiful long golden curls. "You might do the kid a favor if you got him a haircut," advises Cummings! It's sometimes easy to make fun of Hitchcock and call him nothing more than a successful commercial hack, but it's almost impossible to imagine scenes like these appearing in another director's work, not with such consistency.
As far as that goes, few other directors would have the imagination to roll the credits against a blank wall and, afterwards, have an ominous black shadow of smoke unfurl itself against that background. But that's only visual flair. Not that it should be dismissed, but that conversation between Cummings and Baxter I think tells us much more about what exercised Hitchcock's interest aside from patterns on a silver screen.
You can't help but marvel at Hitchcock's early work. "Saboteur," for example, is so slick and quick that it's hard to believe he made this film over 60 years ago. There's some propaganda elements but they're woven into the mystery so well that the thing plays beautifully years later. You also get some previews of stuff that Hitchcock would do later--like using a national landmark as a backdrop. This time it's the Statue of Liberty. In "North by Northwest," of course, it's Mt. Rushmore. You'll also recognize things that pop up later in "Rear Window" and "Vertigo" in "Saboteur" but let's not give away the show. Robert Cummings is excellent as is the oh-so-charming Otto Kruger. Look for Hitchcock's mini-western in this one. It happens quickly so don't blink.
'Saboteur' isn't one of Hitchcock's best known movies but it shouldn't be completely dismissed for that reason. It's a very entertaining "innocent man on the run" thriller, a theme he had previously used to great success in 'The 39 Steps', and would later recycle in one of his most popular movies 'North By Northwest' (and one which still gets used time and time again by Hollywood - see 'The Fugitive', 'Enemy Of The State', 'Minority Report' and countless others). Some people slam Robert Cummings (who later appeared in Hitchcock's 'Dial M For Murder') as being a bit lightweight, but I think he's actually pretty good as a leading man, and Priscilla Lane ('Arsenic And Old Lace') is also not bad, and the two do show some on screen chemistry. Of course with more charismatic leads 'Saboteur' would have been greatly improved, but as it is it's good enough. One actor in the cast I think is really terrific is Otto Kruger ('Murder, My Sweet') who plays Tobin, one of Hitchcock's best ever villains. 'Saboteur' is action packed and keeps things interesting. There's a good sequence with a traveling circus, memorable bit parts from a truck driver and a blind man, and the climax is great stuff and vintage Hitch. If you are new to Hitchcock I could name at least a dozen of his movies to watch before this one, but if you've seen his "greatest hits" try 'Saboteur', it's lots of fun.
Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is wrongfully accused on sabotaging a
hanger making aircrafts for the war. He goes on the run, meets Patricia
Martin (Priscilla Lane) along the way, and she joins him to find and
bring the real criminals to justice.
There are a lot of things wrong with this film. Robert Cummings was a good actor but he's totally miscast in this role; Priscilla Lane is pretty but was never a good actress; the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense (and rambles on longer than needed); it wears its patriotism a bit much (but this WAS made while WWII was in full swing) and there's no ending. It shouldn't work but it does.
It's full of bizarre lines and characters that certainly hold your interest.
For example: Lane says to Cummings (while they're falling in love), "I wish I could have met you a hundred years ago" (????!!!!); Lane PAYS a villain for getting her lunch and Cummings and Lane join a circus troupe briefly while on the run. Also Hitchcock's direction was (as always) just great--he throws in some truly amazing shots and sequences--especially the Statue of Liberty climax.
This is not one of Hitchcock's classic movie but is still very good and worth catching.
This is one of the classic Hitchcock films. It's not really a great film but
its classic Hitchcock all the same. It's got the cross- country chase, the
interesting characters and situation along the way, the innocent hero and
the blonde, the oily villain and his crazed henchman, the big ending, (North
I think it's a little weak that every nice person- save for the girl, instinctively knows Bob Cummings is innocent the moment they meet him. If you ran into a guy who is accused of torching a defense plant and his best friend with it, who you immediately decide that he's not so bad? Also the horrendous nature of the accusation would make the `It Happened One Night' type scenes that draw the hero and heroine together rather unlikely. The wartime patriotic speech at the end can certainly be forgiven. What movies in 1942 didn't have a speech like that?
The big thing, of course is the ending. Sweet old Norman Lloyd in his younger days finds, as Ben Hecht said, that `he needs a new tailor.' It's a model for many similar scenes later. One wonders why there was no denouement. Lloyd tells Cummings that he will clear him and then dies. Is Cummings on his way to jail at the end? An earlier scene suggests that the police already on his side. Wouldn't it be better to make that unclear and then have a scene afterwards where we find out he's off the hook?
Overall, this is entertaining and odd film. Don't try to make sense of
it. There are more holes in the story than a computer could keep up
with, but Robert Cummings and a cast of minor characters are mostly fun
to watch in this "Fugitive"-like story.
Unlike the popular TV show and then 1993 movie, this fugitive isn't looking for a one-armed man, but a two-armed Nazi saboteur by the the name of "Frank Fry." Cummings ("Barry Kane") gets blamed when a defense plant blows up in Los Angeles and goes on the lam looking for the man who did it (Fry) to clear his name.
The first 40 minutes or so are very tense and interesting. Then Priscilla Lane ("Pat Martin") enters the story, and it starts to bog down a bit with some sappy dialog. Director Alfred Hitchcock often did that with his female characters, to the point I wonder if he had a clue how woman talked. Lane's character here was a little lame.
Actually, the villains played by Otto Kruger ("Charles Tobin") and Norman Lloyd ("Frank Fry") were the best, in my opinion......just fascinating. Kruger's acting and dialog was especially good.
If you haven't seen this film but saw Hitchcock's well-known "North By Northwest," you'll chuckle at the ending and really enjoy it. Instead of a climactic scene at Mount Rushmore, here we have a memorable last 10 minutes at the State Of Liberty. As usual, Hitchcock camera angles are great and fun to view.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While certainly not one of Hitchcock's better films, Saboteur is an
energetic and interesting ride nonetheless. Barry Kane (Robert
Cummings) is an average Joe working at an aviation plant. A fire breaks
out and his best friend is killed in the blaze. Incompetent Cops finger
him as the main suspect and he sets off across the desert wilderness on
a mission to clear his name.
Along the way he meets an assortment of eccentric characters including Patricia (Priscilla Lane) a blonde paperweight who initially slows him down but eventually believes he's innocent and decides to help. The story takes some interesting turns and develops a good deal of mystery. But there are some weird moments and plot holes that create confusion.
What is the deal with the telescope in Soda City that points to a dam? Why the fire in the aviation plant in the first place? Why the plot against the launching of the Navy ship? Why is a cinema audience laughing at a serious film with no funny bits happening? Why does Patricia pay her captors for the milk shake they got her? In regards to the first 3 points, these may be conspiracy plots that are part of a much bigger plan that is never really mentioned. But why not? I do hate exposition in movies but even a couple of suggestions here and there about the full story would have made a more satisfying film.
It is one of Hitchcock's many man on the lam/mistaking identity/wrong guy films and works rather well in that regard. But some parts just seems rushed and as a result the films seems a bit incomplete.
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