Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Running for America, from America

When being hunted as a spy across the U.S., one would hope to find plenty of trusting souls capable of seeing right through to one's innocence. This is fortunately what happens to Barry in Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 film Saboteur, an entertaining film though far from one of Hitchcock's best, largely coming off as a less sensible version of Hitchcock's earlier film, The 39 Steps.

Instead of Robart Donat being mistaken as a spy and being chased across Scotland by police and the Enemy, Robert Cummings plays Barry, a worker at an airplane factory who is framed for arson at the factory and is chased across the U.S. by police and the Enemy. The movie was made during World War II, so perhaps the shadowy organisation undermining U.S. society are meant to be Axis spies, but it's never made clear.

Like many war time propaganda films, Saboteur spends a lot of time ruminating on the fundamental wholesomeness of the country it was made in as Barry meets a truck driver, a blind man, and a troupe of circus freaks in his travels, all of whom are able to see into Barry's heart and perceive his basic goodness. A subtle difference between this film and other country tour, war propaganda films--like Powell and Pressburger's The 49th Parallel--Hitchcock shows the people able to see Barry's innocence to be outsiders who explicitly refer to the things that distinguish them as giving them that insight. The blind man refers to his blindness as allowing him to see Barry's character more clearly, the circus freaks sympathise with the lack of help Barry gets from "normals".

Two of the leaders of the enemy faction are even presented as appearing to being epitomes of American virtue--first an amiable ranch owner who exhibits fondness for his infant granddaughter and then a wealthy woman influential in New York society, known for donations to charity. One imagines Hitchcock being quite pleased with himself in injecting a bit of paranoia into the otherwise normal sentiments of a certain kind of propaganda.

Priscilla Lane plays Pat, granddaughter of the blind man and she doesn't trust Barry like he does. But like Donat and Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps, they're stuck with each other as fugitives in the wilderness, though the reasons for Pat staying with Barry make a little less sense as she's not hand cuffed to him. This is one of a few logistical flaws that render this film inferior to the tight as a drum The 39 Steps.

But the climactic final act of Saboteur is certainly more of a spectacle with high angle shots from skyscrapers and a rather dramatic boat launching.

According to Wikipedia, Hitchcock originally wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the leads. Certainly those two would have better served the film, particularly in regards to the rather bland and unconvincing Cummings. But Lane is pretty and charming. I liked how her character is a model who turns up on billboards with oddly pertinent messages throughout the film.

Tags: alfred hitchcock, movies, priscilla lane, robert cummings, saboteur, suspense

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