“Why is it that you sneer every time you refer to this country?”
Rarely is there a Hitchcock film that is not perfect. Some of his films have their slight misses, too much going on at the same time, and confusion but unfortunately Saboteur is one Hitchcock’s flat out misses.
Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) works in a plant manufacturing things for the government to be used in the war. There is a fire and Barry’s friend dies while trying to fight it. For some reason Barry is blamed for the fire and is now on the run across the country trying to clear his name. He has some clues and tries to piece those clues together. They lead him to a man named Tobin (Otto Krueger). Tobin is an evil man but he has a reputation as an upstanding citizen no one will ever realize or believe what illegal things he is up to.
Barry manages to get away from the police after they have been called to Tobin’s house by jumping into a river and evading the police. He comes across the house of a blind man. The blind man knows that Barry has handcuffs on but believes him innocent. The man’s niece Patricia (Priscilla Lane) is not so convinced. When her uncle has her take Barry to the locksmith to take the cuffs off she intends to go to the police. Barry foils her plans and she winds up coming with him on his name clearing journey.
Things begin to get pieced together and the danger becomes higher. By the time the two get to New York Barry and Patricia’s safety becomes uncertain.
Basically the film screams American patriotism and “American values.” I was so completely bored by the film I kind of lost interest by a certain point. As Hitchcock put it the plot was confusing because the characters were confused. Normally I would not mind that idea but I did because the plot was boring. Hitchcock himself said the actors were boring they were not the kind of actors he wanted: Robert Cummings had too much of a happy, calm face and Priscilla Lane was too familiar. To top things off the director was not at RKO Selznick had him loaned out to an independent producer at Universal Pictures where the only actors on hand were Cummings and Lane and the script was written in two weeks. Not one of Hitchcock’s better ideas he set out to make Saboteur as an American version of The 39 Steps.
Priscilla Lane and Robert Cummings were not bad actors. Hitchcock even said that Cummings was a very capable actor but he was just not suited for the film. He wanted Gary Cooper for Barry Kane but could not get him. If IMDB is true he also wanted Barbara Stanwyck… ugh what could have been with Cooper and Stanwyck in the leads!!! Lane is a good actress but like Cummings she just does not fit in a Hitchcock film. To make matters worse for me I just thought of her in Arsenic and Old Lace and I started to laugh. Even the villain was very miscast, I say he was miscast more than Cummings and Lane. Otto Krueger was a stock villain for Universal. He just looked silly in the role I laughed more than I was anxious with him.
When I think of a cast for a Hitchcock film I have come to expect actresses like Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Grace Kelly and actors like Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. They are brand name classic actresses and actors. These are the type of people the director wanted and he even said this is part of the reason the film felt flat as well.
The only really Hitchcock scene in the whole film is at the end which the climax of the story where the characters are at the Statue of Liberty and the real saboteur is found. If you have ever seen North By Northwest where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are on Mount Rushmore the Statue of Liberty scene is like that.
Saboteur is definitely not one of Hitchcock’s best films acting, story, and even direction wise. The ending just ends I actually thought there was something wrong the DVD player for a few seconds. As one IMDB reviewer posted about Saboteur said the film feels like a product of second- tier directing by a director in the Hitchcockian style than by the master himself. I could not have described the direction any better. It is a shame because the story has potential but nothing really works out for it.
Do not completely blow off seeing Saboteur as much as it does fall flat. The film does have its entertaining moments and it is a Hitchcock film and all his films should be seen.