Not bad, but let's play make believe: James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Claude Raines
May 25, 2011
Saboteur might be less than prime Hitchcock, but it has its moments; in fact, quite a few of them. Where it falls apart, however, is in an essential part of any movie...the leads, including the villain. Hitchcock usually was able to come up with interesting villains. Just think of James Mason, Robert Walker, Joseph Cotton, the never seen Rebecca, Paul Lukas, Ray Milland, Herbert Marshall or Claude Raines. In his best films, if he didn't have a charismatic villain he had such charismatic leads - Grant, Olivier, Donat, Bergman, Stewart, for example, that it didn't make much difference
With Saboteur, we have as the male lead Robert Cummings, a pleasant actor, a fine light comedian but, in drama, just earnest, bland and conscientious. His partner here is Priscilla Lane, long forgotten. She was a nice young woman, an adequate actor and not very interesting. Neither of them has any spark of self-irony and there's not bit of measurable sexual voltage. As a villain we have the always reliable Otto Kruger, mister smoothie himself. I've always enjoyed watching Kruger. He was predictable but completely professional. Put the three of them together and we have a film where we don't care what happens to anybody. It's the set-ups and some of the set pieces that had better hold our interest. In other words, we have Saboteur.
Try to imagine an alternate universe where Saboteur, with the same script (maybe without the talky and corny bits) and same scenes, now starred James Stewart or Robert Donat, Margaret Sullavan or Madeleine Carroll (Hitchcock evidently wanted Sullavan) and Claude Raines or Godfrey Tearle. Now that might be one of Hitchcock's classics, or at least something on the charming, dangerous level as The 39 Steps or Foreign Correspondent. But back to reality.
Barry Kane (Cummings), just a guy from Glendale, California, gets involved in a horrendous fire at the aircraft factory where he works, a fire caused by a traitor and where his best friend is killed. It looks to the police that Barry is responsible. He takes off to save himself and find out what really is going on. All he has to go on is the address on a letter he saw at work when he handed it back to a man he thought was another plant worker, a man named Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd). In short order Barry is on the road to Springville, California, and the home of the rich and gracious Charles Tobin (Otto Kruger), then, after a perilous escape while wearing handcuffs, to a house in the woods. There he meets Pat Martin (Lane), who doesn't believe his story, and her blind uncle, who does. Then it's off to desolate Soda City (with Pat; she changed her mind), then to New York City and to a grand ball filled with traitors mixed in with the rich and patriotic. Finally we arrive at the high point of the movie... a tense ship launching, a shootout in a crowded movie house (with Veda Ann Borg on the screen) and a dangerous, high tension scramble up the Statue of Liberty, a slowly tearing coat and a backward, face up, fall.
Even with the weaknesses of the leads, Hitchcock gives us some entertaining moments...a leap off a high bridge and a struggle in a river torrent, a nighttime meeting with circus folks of all shapes, sizes and degrees of hairiness, the desolate ghost town that's Soda City, Alma Kruger and her white tie society ball and, of course, the Statue of Liberty.
Stewart, Sullavan and Raines would have been terrific.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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