Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on April 24, 1942
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, and Dorothy Parker
Cast: Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Norman Lloyd, Otto Kruger, Alan Baxter, Clem Bevans, Alma Kruger, Ian Wolfe, Billy Curtis, Hans Conried, Murray Alper, Tony Randall, and Alfred Hitchcock as ‘Man in Front of NY Drugstore’
As much as I wanted to love Saboteur, for me it was nothing more than a fair-to-middling Hitchcock wartime effort, an offbeat espionage thriller with hints of lighthearted humor and romance, that unfortunately suffered from a wayward plot and a general lack of suspense. Add to that a rushed production start, an unrefined script, and secondary actors who weren’t the director’s first choices (topping his original hoped-for list were Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck), and what you have is a Hitchcock offering that, from a stature standpoint alone, was more Stage Fright than Psycho.
Robert Cummings plays Barry Kane, a defense plant worker falsely accused of sabotage, who takes it on the run to find the man responsible for setting fire to an aircraft hangar at the factory where he works…a man nobody believes exists. Evading the police, Kane follows a trail of abstract clues that lead him to a handful of odd and mysterious characters, and along the way he forms an unlikely bond with a billboard model played by Priscilla Lane, who at first is ready to hand him over to the authorities, but soon believes he’s innocent, and becomes his ally.
Hitchcock’s direction was solid, if not ‘iconic Hitchcock’, though for a spy story such as this there wasn’t much call for his unique style. There were some nice touches sprinkled here and there, and there was use of light and shadow in a number of shots, both indoor and out, that gave the proceedings an unexpected but welcome noir look. And though his screen time was limited, Hitchcock favorite Norman Lloyd made for an unassuming—but still sinister—bad guy, the saboteur of the title who Cummings is hoping to catch.
However, some good set pieces and intentions were marred by a bland and miscast lead actor in Cummings (and to some extent, Lane), and a plot that should’ve stuck closer to its espionage framework, instead of following a strange, serpentine path paved with blind men, circus freaks, socialites, and ghost towns. As far as story structure and narrative went, it was reminiscent of a pair of superior, earlier works by Hitchcock, Young and Innocent and The 39 Steps, but where those films were exciting and fun, this one was sadly not so much.
That is, until the film’s conclusion, when a return to normalcy saw a tension-filled chase through the streets of New York, culminating with a spectacular—if somewhat abrupt—finale atop the Statue of Liberty, a classic slice of Hitchcockian filmmaking that had been lacking in the film up to that point. In the end, I’d say Saboteur is a must-see for devotees of the director, but others might be better off sticking with his tried-and-true classics. (6/10)