44 Days of Paranoia #34: Saboteur (dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 1942 Alfred Hitchcock film, Saboteur.

Saboteur opens at an aircraft factory in Glenda, California.  Co-workers Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) and Ken Mason (Virgil Summers) notice a stand-offish new guy named Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd, who appropriately looks something like a rodent).  When a fire breaks out at the factory, Fry hands Barry a fire extinguisher which Barry then hands off to Ken.  The extinguisher, however, is full of gasoline, both causing the fire to turn into an inferno and killing Ken.

When questioned by the FBI, Barry explains that Fry handed him the extinguisher, just to then be informed that no one named Fry worked at the plant and that no one saw Fry — or anyone else — hand Barry the extinguisher.  Realizing that Fry has framed him and also remembering the address on an envelope that Fry was carrying, Barry runs.  With the FBI and police pursuing him, Barry tries to track down the real saboteur.  Along the way, he discovers a friendly rancher (Otto Kruger) who is actually a Nazi agent and gets some help from a group of circus freaks, a blind man, and the blind man’s model daughter (Peggy Cummings).  He also discovers that the U.S. is crawling with Nazi double agents who hide behind a veil of respectability and are plotting to destroy historic landmarks across the country.  It all eventually leads to a genuinely exciting climax atop the Statue of Liberty.

Saboteur doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other films that Hitchcock directed in the 40s and perhaps that’s not surprising.  It’s not as technically audacious as Notorious nor is it as thought-provoking as Shadow of the Doubt or as flamboyant as Spellbound.  While Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane make for perfectly likable leads, they certainly don’t generate the chemistry of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.  When one looks at the masterpieces that Hitchcock directed in the 40s, it’s easy to dismiss Saboteur as being a well-made B-movie.

And yet, I love Saboteur.  The film is pure non-stop melodrama and, over 70 years since it was first made, it remains an exciting and entertaining film.  Despite the fact that some critics may not hold Saboteur in as high regard as some of Hitchcock’s other films, Saboteur is full of moments of the director’s trademark ambiguity and irony.  This is one of Hitchcock’s wrong man films, where innocent men are chased across a shadowy landscape by the forces of law and order who, in many ways, are portrayed as being just as menacing as the film’s nominal villains.  Meanwhile, the Nazi agents hide behind warm smiles and friendly words, their evil only apparent when it’s too late to stop them.  Despite his rather fearsome reputation, Hitchcock’s sympathies always lay with the powerless and the wrongly accused.

It’s those sympathies that make Saboteur into far more than just another B-movie.

Instead, it’s one of Hitchcock’s best.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives