Monday, December 21, 2009

Dial H for Hitchcock: Saboteur (1942)

Welcome to the second installment of Dial H for Hitchcock, a monthly feature to discuss the work of that one guy. Café author and Dial H creator Lady Eve was unable to initiate a discussion for this month. So for better or (more likely) for worse, I'll open this month's topic with a lesser known Hitch film, Saboteur, from 1942 (and not to be confused with his 1936 British movie, Sabotage).

Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is falsely accused of sabotage, starting a fire at an aircraft plant which resulted in the death of his friend and co-worker. Barry suspects the man responsible is Fry (Norman Lloyd), who Barry and his friend had seen just before the fire. When the police cannot find Fry, Barry is on the lam, eventually teaming up with a young lady (Pris
cilla Lane). He gradually earns her trust as the two of them search for the saboteur.

Hitchcock was only allotted a small budget for this film, which prevented him from casting the actors he reportedly wanted, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Neither leading actor in Saboteur is very memorable, but I think Cummings and Lane both perform admirably. Additionally, they have good chemistry with one another, and their scenes together are strong. Lloyd, as the diabolical Fry, is an outstanding villain.

The director keeps the film moving at an exceptional pace, as it doesn't take long for Barry to start running from the authorities. Of course,
Saboteur is perhaps best remembered for the Statue of Liberty sequence, a suspenseful scene with effects that hold up well even nearly 70 years later. Hitch himself, in French filmmaker Françoise Truffaut's book on the director, described his film as being "cluttered with too many ideas." Maybe he is right, as there is indeed a lot going on. But it's still fun.

What does everyone else think?

13 comments:

ClassicBecky said...

I love your choice for the first Hitchcock movie in this series, Sark. I love Hitchcock and Saboteur is in the top 10 for me. There is something about this movie that holds me despite the number of times I see it. I think Cummings is just right for his right, one of Hitchcock's famous innocent men pulled into diabolical doings of which the innocent man has been blissfully unaware until chance pulls him in. I have always liked Priscilla Lane and she was good with Cummings. You are quite right that the villain is wonderful, and his looks alone keep you looking at him like a deer in the headlights, disliking him but unable to look away. As far as the Status of Liberty scene, I thought it was tremendously enhanced by the lack of music and the utter silence when Cummings and the villain hung from the statue and the sleeve begins to rip. Chiller. Thanks for a great start, Sark!

ClassicBecky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ClassicBecky said...

Well, Sark, my comment came early in the morning -- I said Cummings was right for the right (should have been PART) -- I said this was the first of the series (really the 2ND) -- and I called our most famous monument the STATUS of Liberty. Next time I'll shake the sleep out of my system before commenting!

Paul 2 said...

Sark, I Think Norman is the best thing in this film one of Hitch's better "Bad Guys' And I like the cross country chase which Hitch would use again in North by Northwest.
Norman went on to later produce Hitch's TV series.

Rick29 said...

Sark, for me, SABOTEUR works as a dress rehearsal for NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Both films share popular Hitchcock themes (e.g., innocent man on the run, evil men as gentlemanly in appearance). Their unique similarity is the landmark climaxes. Both of them are thrilling sequences, but I wish the special effects had been better. As you point out, SABOTEUR wasn't a big-budget film, but NORTH BY NORTHWEST was and it looks no better (couldn't Hitch have gotten some help from Harryhausen?). My favorite scene in SABOTEUR isn't a suspense bit, but where Bob Cummings and Priscilla Lane meet the carnival people aboard the train. It's a funny, sweet scene...very different in tone from N BY NW--which is funny in a more cynical way.

Anonymous said...

¿Actor parecido a Vladimiro Putin?

sarkoffagus said...

Becky, I'm happy to have found another SABOTEUR fan! And you're right about the silence during the Statue of Liberty sequence. Wonderful! (And don't worry about typos. I have them all the time, when I'm wide awake. Sometimes doped up on caffeine, but that's a lame excuse...)

Rick, I also enjoy the carnival scene, and I can understand your and Paul's comparisons to NORTH BY NORTHWEST. I really like that film, too. Hitch was an expert with the wrongfully accused characters/plots!

filomeno2006: Norman Lloyd

Dawn said...

Sark, I can not wait to see this film..

Rupert said...

I absolutely love Saboteur! It's one of my top 10 favorite Hitchcock classics of all time!

Rick29 said...

Rupert, nice to see you over here! I read where Hitchcock felt he didn't capture the essence of America well with SABOTEUR and that was one of the reasons he enlisted Thorton Wilder for SHADOW OF A DOUBT. I disagree to the extent that SABOTEUR visually captures the feel of the land (particularly the scene where Barry and Pat are driving along the road and have to abandon the car after Barry uses the motor to remove his handcuffs). I also like Hitch's use of famous landmarks (Boulder Dam, Statue of Liberty) to emphasize this is a film about America (vs. a small-town representation of it as in SHADOW).

toto2 said...

Sark, thank you for your great write-up of a lesser known Hitchcock work. I think Norman Lloyd is a stand out here. Bob Cumming's performance is strengthened by his pairing with the sweet Priscilla Lane. I really enjoyed your research!

The Lady Eve said...

Sark, thank you for a stellar edition of "Dial H for Hitchcock"...I'm glad you chose SABOTEUR for discussion, Hitchcock has such an amazing portfolio of masterpieces, that some of his lesser but still admirable work is often overlooked. I particularly like Norman Lloyd's performance,too, and the Statue of Liberty climax is classic. Though I don't think Cummings was great in the lead, I can't picture Gary Cooper in the role, to tell you the truth...as to Barbara Stanwyck, you started me thinking that she and Hitchcock were made for each other and it's hard to believe they never made a film together together...excellent post, Sark.

Rick29 said...

I agree with Eve. I can't envision Gary Cooper in the lead. Actually, Bob Cummings works better as an everyman thrust into a different world. Anyone have a theory about Hitch's obvious interest in setting climaxes atop U.S. landmarks? Some critics try to paint SABOTEUR as a propaganda film. I think that's too obvious. I think it was attended as a suspense film, but a uniquely American one.