Saboteur (1942)

Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane in Saboteur (1942)

Hitchcock Serves a Fry Up

"Saboteur" is what I would call a bad Hitchcock movie; it feels almost run of the mill and lacks those Hitchcock touches which make it memorable. Having said that even a bad Hitchcock movie isn't that bad and so what we get in reality is an average thriller which works through the wrongly accused man scenario delivering a couple of decent scenes but never really sparking in to life. You could even say it was an experiment that Hitchcock used in forming his ideas for "North by Northwest" which would deliver the wrongly accused man scenario in a more effective and memorable way.

After a fire at a Los Angeles aircraft factory, Barry Kane (Robert Cummings - The Devil and Miss Jones) finds himself the number one suspect and is forced to go on the run in order to clear his name and find the man, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd - In Her Shoes), who he believes is the real saboteur. Travelling across country to New York, Barry finds himself in the company of model Pat Martin (Priscilla Lane) who initially wants to turn him in but slowly believes he is innocent especially when they discover a fascist group is behind the factory fire and have plans to sabotage a series of other targets all under the supervision of Charles Tobin (Otto Kruger).

Norman Lloyd as Frank Fry in Saboteur (1942)

To be frank the "Saboteur" storyline of a wrongly accused man is not that great, Hitchcock had used the idea before and as already mentioned would use it again later on in "North by Northwest". But whilst not great it provides a vehicle for what whilst connected to the story are really a series of set pieces. Following the initial set up which sees Barry going on the run and hooking up with Pat what we get is a series of situations that they find themselves in. The most memorable of these ends up with them cadging a lift with a circus troop and is memorable because Hitchcock delights with the quirky thanks to the range of circus performers including a bearded lady. But all these situations fail to really come to life until the closing scenes which at least start to provide some danger and excitement as everything shifts to the Statue of Liberty.

It almost feels like "Saboteur" was a movie which Hitchcock lost interest in and so seems to float along going through the motions but never delivering on those high expectations which being a Hitchcock movie brings. The sense of thrill, of danger and a race against time as we watch Barry discover he is the patsy for a group of fascists with plans to blow up various other targets is lacking. And whilst there are some scenes such as the party where Barry and Pat find themselves trapped which could have been full of atmosphere and danger only end up being quite damp. It means that whilst functionary "Saboteur" is by no means up to Hitchcock's high standards.

And to be honest the casting didn't quite work as whilst Robert Cummings is pleasant enough as Barry and frankly very likeable he just doesn't deliver the drama. In fact those scenes of dry wit are where Cummings delivers his best performances, making you smile, if only he could have delivered the intensity of the drama as well "Saboteur" may have ended up a better movie. And to be honest whilst Priscilla Lane is beautiful as Pat she seems unable to make her character more than 2 dimensional, thrown in because not only does the movie need a female character but also a love interest. In those scenes where she is supposed to be in danger, taken hostage by the fascist group do we ever get to feel that she is scared, frightened for her safety, not once and it is so wrong.

The best performances actually come from the bad guys and Otto Kruger as Tobin has this real sense of smarmy evilness about him which makes him both evil yet at the same time a little amusing. And Norman Lloyd as Frank Fry may only really get the screen time he deserves towards the end of the movie but at least he creates a classic henchman. Both of these actors deliver the interesting performances which make you sit up and pay attention.

What this all boils down to is that "Saboteur" is very much one of Hitchcock's purely functionary thrillers which never really sparks into life. It is as if Hitchcock lost interest in the movie and so whilst it entertains it never really has that great Hitchcock touch to make it memorable. But as I've said before even a bad Hitchcock movie is average by most other standards and so whilst disappointing "Saboteur" is still entertaining.