Saturday, January 28, 2006

You and Me Against The World

Hitch part 2 0f 15

The first movie up for review in my recently purchased Alfred Hitchcock movie collection is the 1942 film Saboteur. A cinematic descendent of Hitchcocks own The 39 Steps, and very much an ancestor of the more well known North by Northwest, Saboteur was Hitchs first film for Universal and his first with an entirely American cast. The pictures leading man is the underapricated Robert Cummings (who would later achieve greater popularity as a TV sitcom star in the 50's and 60's), who plays Barry Kane a worker at a Los Angels area military aircraft factory in the early days of U. S. involvment in World War II. When a fire at the factory kills his best friend and Barry is implicated as the arsonist, our hero sets out in search of a suspicious new worker, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd), who the police say doesn't exisit. From the address on an envelope of Frys that Barry briefly glimpsed earlier (this is well set-up in the movie and not as contrived as it may seem in my telling), young Mr. Kane sets out for the California ranch country.

Barry is helped to his destination by a truck driver named Mac, perfectly cast in the form of actor Murry Alper. The gentleman who owns the ranch in question, Charles Tobin (a wonderfully sinister Otto Kruger), denies any knowledge of a Frank Fry, by Barry soon discovers his host is lying and is infact involved with a militant group of Nazi sympathizers. Tobin calls the police on Barry, who once in custody is unable to convince the authorities of the 'respected citizens' treasonious ways, as he himself has been on the run for those vary charges. Barry is able to escape from the copes while being transfered to jail with the help of Mac, who is reencounterd at a narrow bridge, our hero goes all Harrison Ford on us by jumping into a river for safety. The fugitive (joke intended) later emerges from the water (cold and wet naturally) and finds shelter in the home of a likable blind man named Phillip Martin(Vaughan Glaser). Though Phillip is blind he is vary perceptive and quickly comes to a conviction of Barrys inherent goodness. The old man sends his visiting niece Patrica (Priscilla Lane, whose character is suppose to be a professional model), to reluctantly take Barry to a blacksmith friend of his to have his handcuffs removed.

Patrica decides not to take Barry to the blacksmiths but to turn him into the police instead, she is able to trick her charge into wrapping his hands around the cars stearing wheel so as to make him easier to handel. Barry however is able to get his foot on the gas and gain limited control of the vehicle, so that the two of them remain locked into awkward struggle for control of the car until coming to a stop in the middle of the desert. When Priscilla escapes from the car and attempts to hitchhike away from him, Barry manages to use a buzz saw like compounite of the vehicles motor to separate his handcuffs and then recapture her. When the car breaks down later our hero and his reluctant companion are forced to abandon it and end up stuck in the desert at night. Barry is eventually able to convince Priscila to join him in stowing away on a passing circus caravan after reminding her that if she doesn't she'll be stuck out in the desert alone at night with snakes. The car they sneak onto turns out to inhabited by a colorful collection of sideshow performers, who at first debate giving them refuge but eventually hid the pair from a surprise police inspection. During their time with the freaks Patrica becomes at least partially convinced that Barry is telling the truth.

Having seen a letter of Frys addressed from a 'Soda City' while at Tobins, Barry decides that visiting this local is his best chance at catching the sabtoure and proving his innocence. The carven drops the couple near their desired location, which turns out to be a ghost town. In a supposedly abandoned building the two discover evidence of a plot to blow up an important hydro electric station (footage of what I believe to be Hoover Dam is used for this facility). When two men approach the building Barry is able to hid Patrica (who goes by Pat for short), and convince the visitors that he is the saboteur that blew up the factory for them. The leader of the two a Mr. Freeman (Alan Baxter) takes Barry back to New York with him for safety, there our intrepid fugitive quickly discovers that the American fascists are deeply embedded in upper-crust society, and worse yet (through the aid of crooked lawmen out west) they've captured Pat!

Saboteur is a great period thriller, and in plot and tempo more like Hitchcocks 50's work then his other WWII era pictures. It has been reported that Hitch originally wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the leads, and while these two would assuredly have made a fine picture, I believe this movie benefited from the added 'everyman' quality brought by using lesser known performers as its stars. This has been my third viewing of the picture and I've come to realize that Robert Cummings dramatic ability's are more limited then I first thought, however he is such a sympathetic figure that the man is more then capable of carrying the picture. Priscilla Lane is also a winning personality and I find that every time I view this picture I want to see more of her work. The supporting cast of character actors is very strong, and there are many memorable and inventive scenes. During the New York part of the movie alone we are treated to great sequences set in a fancy fifth avenue party, Radio City Music Hall, and the Statue of Liberty. Containing many hokey speech's extolling a kind of war-time liberalism, this picture is a great and inspiring time capsule of national feelings we could use to recapture. Not the best Hitchcok movie, but its earnestness, action and creativity has it made it one of my favorites.


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