“ Genre: War & Western - War / Theatrical Release: 1942 / Parental Guidance / Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Actors: Priscilla Lane, Robert Cummings, Otto Kruger, Alan Baxter, Clem Bevans ... / DVD released 2005-10-17 at Universal Pictures UK / Features of the DVD: Black & White, PAL „
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After a bit of a break, I've started to watch my Hitchcock collection again and the film I chose first from the remaining bunch was the 1942 black and white film Saboteur.
Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is falsely accused of sabotaging the aeroplane plant at which he works, and killing his best friend in the process. On the run from police, he must track down the real culprit and prevent another disaster in the process. The film is an example of Hitchcock's oft used 'wrong man' theme. It also stars Priscilla Lane as the daughter of a blind man who helps Kane along the way.
The film begins with a silhouette of a man as the opening credits roll, lending a traditional 'film noir' feel to the movie. The film is in black and white, which adds to the atmosphere. The original screenplay was partly written by Dorothy Parker, which helps to explain the rich, literary quality of some speeches. Overall the film is engaging and flows at a steady pace, with lots of interesting and exciting events, such as the scenes in the lorry, the charity ball, and the encounter with a number of circus 'attractions'.
Being set in World War II, the plot must have felt relevant to viewers at the time, and the film did well at the box office. There are a number of comments during the film on one's duty as an American citizen, with Barry Kane clearly supposed to be a shining example. The film was Hitchcock's first with an all-American cast, and the movie ends with a traditional Hitchcock set-piece starring the Statue of Liberty - a clear message of American ideals.
The special effects are very good for the time this movie was set, especially the ending, which works especially well and is suitably tense.
Overall I enjoyed this film - I thought it was well acted, well written and plotted, and excellently directed as per all of Hitchcock's efforts. It certainly isn't my favourite of his films, and indeed I found it harder to think of things to say about this one, compared to, say, Vertigo. It certainly pales into comparative insignificance compared with Vertigo et al, but seen on its own it is definitely a good film - it would be a great achievement if it was by any other director.
My disc, which is part of the Hitchcock 14-disc box set, includes a documentary which is interesting and well worth watching, as well as the original trailer and some artwork.
Saboteur is rated PG, a rating which I can't disagree with as there are no scenes which I would personally consider to be unsuitable for all but the youngest children.
This is a review of the dvd which is part of the Alfred Hitchcock collection boxset.
A couple of years ago I was browsing the racks of HMV and saw a rather weighty boxset of Alfred Hitchcock films for the paltry sum of £15....to be precise, £15 for 14 films!. This film is the first chronologically from the boxset and was not familiar to me previously. I'm a bit of a Hitchcock fan and have, as yet, not seen a 'bad' film by him although this one is not really a classic in my estimation. This comes from the period when Hitchcock had freshly moved to the USA after nearly 20 years as a successful film maker in his native England. He was somewhat underfire for leaving England at the start of the Second World War for 'deserting' his country. In some ways that might explain the annoying and occasionally cloying comments about the 'allied effort' and 'those who would try to destroy our wonderful country' etc, but I think that can be excused and seen in the light of the times in which it was made.
The fact is, 'Saboteur' is not really all that great although it does have some fine Hitchcock flourishes. The story centres around aircraft factory worker Barry Kane who is falsely accused of starting a fire at the factory which he works at. There's always that thing in England about setting fire to the monarch's boats is the last treasonable act punishable by death, this may have been on the mind of Hitchcock and the writers at the time. Kane flees the authorities and sets about trying to prove his innocence, if you think of the plot of 'The Fugitive' you'll be able to fill in the blanks from there. The film does contain this element of 'fifth columists trying to sabotage America from within to assist the Nazi's', this all felt a bit clunky and was just an excuse for lots of patriotic speeches.
One of the problems with 'Saboteur' is the casting, although Robert Cummings seems fine enough as an actor, he doesn't quite have the flair of a Cary Grant or James Stewart to hang the story around. His Barry Kane isn't a particularly complex character when you think of the brilliant characters Hitchcock was to bring to the screen later, such as Norman Bates. This is all a bit two-dimensional, but having said that the 1hr 45mins duration doesn't drag too much and its an enjoyable entertainment. The female lead is played by Priscilla Lane [who actually got top billing in the films credits] though I'm not really familiar with anything else she's been in. She was suitably glamourous and did have a bit more to do than the average role for women at this time would have called for. She and Kane team up for a kind of cross country search across America for the infamous 'Fry' the REAL saboteur who started the fire at the factory killing Kane's close friend. [By the way, I'm not giving anything away here that isn't SPELT out in the opening 10 minutes of the film]
No viewer will be in any doubt by the end of the film that Barry Kane is supposed to be a real stand-up guy and would never be involved in anything as nasty as that which he's accused of. Cummings seemed to fluff his lines on at least a couple of occasions as if the enormity of his leading role status was a bit much for him. The final scene at the Statue of Liberty is hailed as a classic set-piece from Hitchcock's career but the passage of time has somewhat dulled it's impact it still deserves applause for effort, the ambition was certainly there.
Can be bought as part of the mentioned boxset, or individually for a bargain price on Amazon UK of around £5 after postage.
Stung by criticism that branded his defection to Hollywood just prior to the outbreak of World War II as unpatriotic, Hitchcock spent the early forties busying himself with a series of films that examined the battle of wits between democracy and fascism, among them 1942's excellent Saboteur.
To describe it with frank simplicity, Saboteur is a bit like a Hollywood reimagining of The 39 Steps, or perhaps a proto-North By Northwest. The premise sees an innocent man accused of murder and perpetrating a crime of sabotage against his nation, as he is forced to go on the run from the authorities. In this instance, the man is Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) and in classic Hitchcock style, the viewer is treated to his desperate attempts to evade arrest, find the real culprits and clear his name in what proves to be a tense, vivacious piece of cinema from the master of suspense.
Cleverer than the majority of its wartime popcorn-flick peers, Saboteur wastes little time in engineering the viewers support of its central figure, but the underlying commentary runs far deeper than a simple good versus evil affair. Though it critiques fascism head-on, it's notable that Saboteur avoids casting the stereotypical Nazi or Japanese agent as the villain we've since become so acclimatised to; the real enemies of the piece are those positioned snugly within the American elites. Hitchcock paints a worryingly tangible scenario whereby such pervasive individuals are untouchable, due to their influence over a press that the public are quick to place their complete confidence in; it's almost the ultimate enemy-within scenario for a World War II film.
At the heart of it all is Charles Tobin, played with a wonderful, cynical charm by Otto Kruger, who delights in the apparent hopelessness of Kane's situation. His quiet arrogance and air of superiority comes from a belief that "the moron millions", those easily manipulated by what they see, read and hear, automatically believe in Kane's guilt. In one of the stand out scenes of the film, the dangers of a passive society during wartime are brilliantly exposed when the real saboteur, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd), starts shooting at police in a cinema. The audience don't notice as they're too busy laughing at a similar stand-off situation on screen. Their laughter turns to horror as a man is shot in the front-row, and the subsequent anarchy leads to a near-inseparable merging of gun-fire and screaming from both theatre and movie - a case of life imitating art.
Freedom of choice is a theme that permeates the slick, sharp dialogue and in many ways, each scenario develops either on whether people are willing to make judgements, listen to reason or remain passive. Central to this is Pat (Priscilla Lane), Kane's initially highly-reluctant accomplice. The early scenes in particular make for exciting viewing as Kane tries to convince her of his innocence, confusing her initial sureness as to his guilt. Her image as a billboard model is recurrent throughout the film with similarly conflicted messages; "you're being followed" and "she'll never let you down", suggesting a knowing, dark humour that Hitchcock would polish in his later films.
A surreal scene in which Kane and Pat seek refuge in one of the trucks of a travelling circus troop makes for another superbly scripted look at the culture of free-speech. The bickering group of social outcasts come to represent a society-in-a-microcosm, with each member offering their own differing view on justice. It culminates in a vote on whether they should aid Kane or hand him over to the police, making for a masterfully tense sequence. Kane is repeatedly forced to place his fate in the hands of those he doesn't know, and Hitchcock plays on this paranoia brilliantly. In one sense Saboteur criticises the "moron millions" for a perceived lack of awareness, yet in one of the many knowing-ironies, the only individual who seems completely sure of the central character's innocence is a blind man. Kane (and by extension the viewer) can never relax, as his predicament is reinforced through a hammerbeat of cleverly integrated newspaper and radio reports, making for a backdrop of unease that is virtually unrelenting. For the most part it's unobtrusive; though when Kane warns Pat by pointing none-too-subtly at a book called "Escape", and Tobin produces a the novel called 'The Death of a Nobody', things do seem a touch heavy-handed.
Matters are helped by a cast that deliver strong showings across the board. Cummings makes for a likable and enigmatic hero, bringing a suitable level of grit to the role even if he isn't gifted in the lighter moments with the easy-going charm of a Cary Grant. It is Priscilla Lane who steals the show however with a wonderful performance as Pat, Kane's foil-cum-accomplice. She acts beautifully, with an understated charm that is far superior to Joan Fontaine's melodramatic antics in Hitchcock's Suspicion of the previous year, for which she received an Oscar that some have speculated, may have been compensation for not winning a gong for Rebecca.
Saboteur shows Hitchcock's early mastery of the editing process. In recent times, the skill of cutting a film has become greatly diminished, with modern movies often appearing lengthy simply for the sake of it. Saboteur is a reminder that editing is an integral part of making a film flow smoothly. Each scene lasts only as long as it needs to, allowing for a balance of action and plot-progression that is close to perfect. Whilst surprisingly few critics have acknowledged it, the finale on the Statue of Liberty, using a mixture of real-life shots and an elaborate set, remains one of the director's most accomplished scenes technically, with some extremely clever optical illusions being woven to make the end so effective.
The only small criticism presentation-wise is an excessive use of make-up on certain actors. No doubt it was applied to enhance the look of certain characters on black and white film but some, particularly Cummings, have so much they seem to glow, and this is also possibly the reason he and Lane appear so unflatteringly in the colour posters and photo-shots that have accompanied the film. This small hiccup aside, the film still looks fabulous for its age. The aircraft hanger at the beginning is a work of art thanks to effective lighting, making the contrast appear incredibly dynamic in black and white. The lavish interior shots of the elite conspirator's homes make their material wealth luridly evident thanks to some remarkably detailed compositions.
Add to this an ominous, smartly articulated soundtrack and you've got a very complete, very watchable and energetic slice of classic cinema. It's a text-book example of the cat-and-mouse thriller and remains a lesson in smart editing and dynamic cinematography. With one or two minor exceptions, the acting is top-notch; the story engaging and the pacing near-perfect. An overlooked gem, and one of the best films Alfred Hitchcock ever made.
In 2000 my flatmates began to start to worry about me. I would go into my room and shut the door. Sometime later they would start to hear a strange noise... No that! If I had been making rude noises my friends would have understood, we were students after all, the noises were far more sinister. The marching sound of goosesteps and the rallying cries of Adolf Hitler himself - had I become a closet Nazi? Luckily, this was not the case; I was becoming a closet specialist in WW2 propaganda! As part of my studies I compared the propaganda of several countries and in particular the UK and Germany. I saw some excellent films that subtly hinted at what was needed for the people to win the war, but I also saw some disgusting lies (can you guess which country made which type of film?) Like any type of film, propaganda can be made well of poorly, you would have thought that a brilliant director like Hitchcock would not have a problem...
Barry Kane works in an arms factory in an America primed for war against Nazi Germany and their axis. Half a world away from the front it appears that the war has come to America when someone sabotages the factory and Barry is framed. With no one to clear his name Barry's only clue is an address he finds that is linked to man he found suspicious. Over the next few days Barry must remain one step ahead of the authorities as he tries to unravel a dastardly plan that will end at one of America's most noteworthy cultural icons.
"Welcome to America", is probably one of the first things that Hitchcock heard on arriving on the film set of 'Saboteur'. Hitch had been angling to make a US movie for years, but unfortunately his opportunity came at a cost. The Americans obviously wanted him to make a propaganda film to support the US war effort and the film suffers because of this. Hitchcock is all about subtlety and 'Saboteur' does contain many of these elements. However, this makes the propaganda sections even more jarring. On 5 or 6 occasions a cast member will look into the middle distance and describe to someone what makes America so great. These sections do not fit in with the rest of the film and really make it suffer.
It is not helped that as the story itself is one of the weakest in the Hitchcock cannon. Again and again Hitchcock returned to the idea of a wronged man on the run for his life. The success of the films varies from the sublime '39 Steps' to this film. All the elements of a classic thriller should be present - wronged man, shadowy conspiracy group and epic final set piece. In fact, it almost acts like an Americanised '39 Steps'. It should work, but the clunky dialogue and crow barred in patriotism just makes it all fall flat.
One element that is obviously a flaw is the casting of Robert Cummings as the hero. He comes across as too apple pie American and has no shades of grey at all. This is unusual for the director and hints perhaps at a picture were some of the decisions were taken out of his hands. Propaganda works best on a subtle level and treats the audience with intelligence. The likes of 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' and 'Mrs Miniver' are prime examples as they speak of a changing world where every man woman and child needs to work towards a people's war. Goebbels was more interested in a direct approach with 'Triumph of the Will' and 'Hitlerjunge Quex' showing the might of Germany and evil of Communism/Jews etc. Unbelievably, 'Saboteur' almost falls in the German style of film propaganda with its overly obvious tones and finger waving. Any audience could tell that they should be aware of 5th Columnists without the blatant speeches.
There are elements of 'Saboteur' that will make it worthwhile for Hitchcock completeists; its comparisons to other movies and its finale on the Statue of Liberty for instance. Apart from this it lacks the intelligence that became second nature in Hitchcock's films. The story feels like so many others and also happens to be too slow in places. Time and again you are reminded of '39 Steps' and think how two so similar films could be so different. In fact, they would have been far better off just re-releasing that film as it has the same messages, but on a much cleverer scale.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Cummings
Price: Amazon uk £16.98 as part of a 14 film boxset
As all the Hitchcock movies I saw in this collection the disc contained the original trailer and a 30 minute documentary about the film. Again the documentary is very good.
One of the lesser known Hitchcock films, it follows a familiar path - Barry Kane (played by Bob Cummings) is a man is wrongly accused of killing someone, and must clear his name. Of course, this means he has to go on the run, in an attempt to track down the real perpetrator.
Along the way he is helped by a kindly blind man, and held back by a feisty young woman, Pat (played by Priscilla Lane.) Of course, she softens when she sees that he's not such a bad chap after all. (And frankly, the increasingly stubbly and dishevelled Bob Cummings is HOT.)
Of course, before they can prove Barry's innocence, they must evade the law, assisted by a van full of circus freaks (don't ask).
The tension builds as Barry bluffs his way right into the enemy's lair - he is a wanted man, after all - why not make them believe he really is on their side? Hitchcock once again contrasts a room full of happy, jolly people at a social event, with the panic of the only two who know the truth about the danger that lurks beneath the surface...
The adventure continues with one of Hitchcock's favourite things -a deadly chase with a huge, iconic backdrop.
This film may be a little formulaic - the wrongly accused man on the run, the love interest who threatens to turn him in, the fear that nobody will believe him when he tries to prove what's really going on.... But it's a classic film, perhaps all the more satisfying for the ticking of these boxes. Bob Cummings plays against type in this serious role (my dad informs me he was usually in light comedies) and the enemies are all the more sinister for their genial conversation. It might look like a film for a slow Sunday afternoon, but you could still do your fingernails some serious damage.