Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” (1942) starring Priscilla Lane & Robert Cummings

[Philip, a blind man, explains to Patricia why he believes Barry is innocent]

Phillip: Don’t you know I can see a great deal farther than you can? I can see intangible things. For example, innocence.

A young L.A. aircraft worker, Barry Kane (Robert Cummings- who later co-starred in Dial M for Murder) evades arrest after he is unfairly accused of sabotage. Following leads, he travels cross-country and ends up in NYC, trying to clear his name by exposing fascists hiding behind money/respectability. Along the way, he meets a young model, Pat Martin (Priscilla Lane), as well as some quirky/colorful characters. There are brief appearances by Sir Alfred Hitchcock (in front of drugstore) and Robert Mitchum (on stairs in the factory).

Pat: If it had been any other sort of crime, if a man had stolen because he was starving, even if a man had committed murder to defend himself, maybe I wouldn’t tell the police. But there’s only one reason why men commit sabotage, and that’s worse than murder.

Hitchcock wanted Gary Cooper or Joel McCrea for the lead; Cooper wasn’t interested in a thriller and McCrea was busy. The director thought that Cummings was “a competent performer,” but found his performance, and the movie, suffered because he “belongs to the light-comedy class of actors” and had “an amusing face, so that even when he’s in desperate straits, his features don’t convey any anguish.” Hitch thought Lane “simply wasn’t the right type” for his picture; he preferred Margaret Sullavan or Barbara Stanwyck. Hitch was esp. upset re: not getting the villain he wanted. To convey the sense of the homegrown fascists being regular people, the ones you’d least likely suspect, he wanted former silent movie actor/Western star- Harry Carey. Although the script was originally written w/ Germans in mind as the villains, he decided not to mention “Germans” at all.

Charles Tobin: When you think about it, Mr. Kane, the competence of totalitarian nations is much higher than ours. They get things done.

Saboteur is one of Hitch’s “wrong man” films, where the protagonist is falsely accused of a crime. It’s similar to one of his earlier British films, The 39 Steps (1935), as many viewers have noted. We find Hitchcock feeling his way around America (literally); there are elaborate sets in this film. The ranch house of Charles Tobin (Otto Kruger) was later used as the home of the Brenner’s on The Birds (1963). The special effects crew took pics of the Statue of Liberty’s raised hand, her torch, and the ledge beneath it; these were re-created to scale on a Universal soundstage.

[1] The opening fire is filmed in a very stylish manner with black smoke slowly engulfing the screen; the set-piece with the circus troupe is quirky with memorable characters… there’s also a great sequence in a cinema… but best of all is the final set-piece atop the Statue of Liberty, it’s exciting stuff with excellent set design too.

[2] The darker elements of the narrative and the sharp wit of literary maven Dorothy Parker (during her brief stint in Hollywood…) who co-authored the script were a perfect match for Hitchcock’s sensibilities.

[3] 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.” …Otto Kruger steals the show as the villain.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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