Sunday, April 25, 2010

Underrated Movie #63: Saboteur

Welcome to Hitchcock Week! Alas, I’ve been scooped right off the bat— One of my inspirations for this blog was the great William Martell who has one site for screenwriting advice and another site for movie analysis. He does Hitchcock every Friday, but I tried to start with one that he hadn’t done yet. Well guess what he just did this Friday? He went much more in depth than I have, so read his too!

Title: Saboteur
Year: 1941
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, and Dorothy Parker (yes, the Dorothy Parker)
Stars: Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger, Norman Lloyd

The Story: A nazi saboteur torches a defense plant, but the blame falls on an innocent young man, who takes off on a cross-country hunt for the real Nazi that takes him from a ghost town to Hoover Dam to the Statue of Liberty.

How it Came to be Underrated: Hitchcock came to America to make two prestigious literary adaptations, Rebecca and Suspicion, but when he wanted to return to the making the kind of adventure films he loved back in England, he was informed that this was strictly “B” picture material and all his newfound clout still couldn’t get him an “A” budget or big stars. He had to gradually convince America that genre pictures could be art.

Why It’s Great:

  1. This film is the middle step in a three-decade long thematic trilogy, starting with The 39 Steps in 1935 and concluding with North By Northwest in 1959. All three follow an innocent man, accused of treason, who has to traipse across a series of national landmarks in order to clear his name. This isn’t an all-time classic like the other two, but it’s the only one made during an actual war, giving it a little more weight.
  2. This was Hitchcock’s first thriller set in America, and he gleefully decides to cram the whole country in. And yet he doesn’t hesitate to be critical, right off the bat. We revisit the Hitler-loving society types from Holiday, who desire “a more profitable type of government,” but now it’s not enough to dismiss them. Now they must be stopped.
  3. Cummings spends the first half of the movie trying to convince everyone he’s innocent, then when he realizes what they want to do, he starts trying to convince the bad guys that he’s guilty, so that he can unravel the conspiracy from the inside. It’s a great example of raising the stakes—Reacting to circumstances is fine for getting a hero through the first half, but eventually you have to figure out a way to flip things around so that the hero takes control of the action.
  4. Before Hitchcock was told that this would be a “B” picture, he wanted to cast Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. I love it the way it is, but I can’t help but dream of how great the movie would have been with one of my favorite movies duos of the time (Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire) instead of the workaday leads it got.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: This movie shouldn’t be confused with Hitchcock’s earlier movie Sabotage, which was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel “Secret Agent”. And that movie shouldn’t be confused with Hitchcock’s movie that was titled Secret Agent, which was actually an adaptation of Somerset Maughm’s “Ashenden” stories. Confused yet? Don’t be, just watch the movies, you’ll like them.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and Watch Instantly

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: The Whole Dirty Story!


Cassandra Mortmain said...

I'm a new-ish reader, but let me tell you I love this blog. I'm getting so many great viewing ideas. As for this Hitchcock series, I really REALLY hope The Foreign Correspondent gets covered here. George Sanders absolutely steals my heart in that movie. It's so delightful to see him playing a good guy for a change, proof that smooth as silk sarcastic British aristocrats don't HAVE to be evil.

Have you ever seen the movie LURED, with George Sanders and Lucille Ball? I think it'd be a solid candidate for inclusion on this blog.

Please, keep blogging! I love your perspective on movies. And you're absolutely right-- Stanwyck and Cooper would have lit this movie on fire.

Matt Bird said...

Thanks for reading-- I love your name! No, I'm not getting to Foreign Correspondent this time around, though Sanders is great in it (giving his foppish explanation for why his last name starts with a lowercase "f"). I have never seen Lured, though I've heard good stuff. I just put it on my Netflix queue.