Sunday, July 10, 2011

Saboteur

I watched Hitchcock's Saboteur again yesterday. I bought the DVD a while ago, and found the movie was a previously undiscovered treat (as far as I was concerned - it was one I'd never caught up with when it was shown at the movies). Not only are Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane a delight in the main roles (a typical Hitchcock couple along the lines of any of the semi-comedy Hitchcock movies) but they're surrounded by an excellent cast in a variety of smaller roles. Many of these faces were probably familiar around the time the movie was made, but with the advance of years, most of them have become unfamiliar.

Saboteur is, in part, a road movie: Cummings is falsely accused of being a saboteur and goes on the run, picking up Lane on the way. The script is full of speeches about Freedom and Liberty and such (effective in the year the movie was made [1942] no doubt, but a little ironic now) and the baddies, all 'American' citizens, are a nasty undermining group. (One of them is called 'Mr Freeman'). The script is credited to Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison and Dorothy Parker, but it's full of Hitchcock touches. In fact it was Viertel's first script, and, as was often the case with Hitchcock's movies, was written greatly in collaboration with Hitchcock. Parker hones some of the dialogue scenes: the truckdriver going on about his wife, the circus performers arguments and so. Originally she and Hitchcock appeared in the movie as the couple who stop by Cummings and Lane when the two are fighting by the roadside, and Parker delivered the line: They must be very much in love. However, this shot was later replaced with other actors, since it seemed too intrusive to use such well-known faces at that point.

The ending takes place (for no particular real reason, although one of the characters gives it a rather lame explanation) on the Statue of Liberty (the name is thematic, of course, and Lane reads out the stirring words that were written when the statue was gifted to the US by the French). The real saboteur, played by Norman Lloyd (he went on to collaborate with Hitchcock in a variety of other ways), hardly appears in the movie: he's there at the beginning briefly, and then doesn't turn up until the final showdown, plummeting off the Statue in one of Hitchcock's cleverer trick shots.

But it's the characters who are met along the way that make this movie interesting: the garrulous truckdriver, Lane's blind uncle (who can hear and sense things better than the rest of us, of course), the circus troup disturbed in the night (these characters get about ten minutes of the movie, and are strongly delineated both by the writers and the actors), and a bunch of menacing baddies who mouth platitudes about 'real' freedom and so on. Hitchcock has a gift for bringing a character to life in a few moments of screen time.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable Hitchcock piece.
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