Saturday, December 11, 2010


Title: Saboteur
Year: 1942
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison & Dorothy Parker (yes, the Dorothy Parker! How cool!)
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 104 minutes
A black & white picture

Saturday 11th December, 8:30am
I am writing this up at around 11am. I am in a bit of a hurry as I have a lot to do this afternoon (well, I am planning a three hour hike and I would like to leave at 1pm - if the weather stays nice, that is). So, once again, I am going to have to race through this write-up whilst consuming a pile of lemon curd sandwiches and a mug of tea. Great sustenance, no?
I love doing this project but I do look forward to the day I can sit down and watch a Hitchcock movie again without having a pad of paper on my knee and a crappy Biro in my right hand. It's also rather time-consuming, but that isn't too much of a problem for someone who doesn't do much with his life anyway!
Yes, I am having one of those days when I wonder if anyone is actually reading this blog and wonder if it's worth the trouble. The thing is, I will continue anyway because I am a little bit obsessive and I will feel awfully incomplete if I don't finish what I've started (tell that to my old University lecturers then!)
*ahem* Let's get on with it...

Patricia Martin - Priscilla Lane
Barry Kane - Robert Cummings
Charles Tobin - Otto Kruger
Freeman - Alan Baxter
Meilson - Clem Bevans
Frank Fry - Norman Lloyd
Mrs Sutton - Alma Kruger
Phillip Martin - Vaughan Glazer
Mrs Mason - Dorothy Peterson
Robert - Ian Wolfe
Society Woman - Frances Garson
Truck Driver - Murray Alper
Young Mother - Kathryn Adams
"Bones" - Pedro de Cordoba
"The Major" - Billy Curtis
Fat Woman - Marie Le Deaux
Lorelei - Anita Bolster
Siamese Twins - Jeanne and Lynn Roher

Barry Kane works at an Airplane factory in California. He and his friend and colleague (Ken Mason) bump into a man who drops his belongings. Barry helps him pick them up. He sees the man's name on an envelope - Frank Fry - and hands it back. The two friends then see Frank also dropped a $100 bill and they return it to him.
A fire breaks out and the three men rush to help put it out. Ken hands an extinguisher to Barry but Ken takes it off him and rushes toward the flames. He is soon engulfed and burns to death.
There is an inquest and it is determined that the extinguisher was full of gasoline and the fire was an act of sabotage. They suspect it was Barry because he was the one from whom Ken had taken the extinguisher.
Barry had gone to console Ken's mother and while he is getting brandy from her neighbour, two detectives come and explain that they are looking for Barry and the reasons why. When Barry returns, Mrs Mason tells him and he takes his leave.

Barry hitchhikes a ride with a truck driver and during the journey, he recalls the place name from the envelope that Frank Fry had - the driver drops him off at Deep Springs Ranch.
Here he meets Charles Tobin, a wealthy man who enjoys his ranch and his private pool and the company of his family and his toddler granddaughter. He denies knowledge of Frank Fry but goes to telephone his neighbour in case they might know him. While he is gone, Barry sees some mail, amongst which is a telegram from Frank saying he'll be heading to Soda City. Charles returns and sees that Barry has figured out he is lying. Barry tries to escape by using Tobin's granddaughter as a 'human shield' and attempts to steal a horse. He is caught and brought back where he is cuffed and taken away by police.
On the way to the police station, the road is blocked - by the same truck driver he'd hitchhiked with - and he escapes the clutches of the police and leaps off the bridge into a river.
Later that night, sodden and weary, he makes his way through the rain-soaked wood and comes across a cabin. Here he meets a blind man who is very hospitable. The blind man's niece turns up and she is shocked to see Barry in handcuffs and deduces that he is the man the police are looking for. Her uncle believes Barry is innocent and tells her to take him to the blacksmiths to get the cuffs removed. However, she is not convinced and begins to drive him to the police station. He intervenes and guides the car on a detour. She flees his grasp and tries to flag down a passing car. Barry uses the fan under the bonnet to cut through the chain-links bonding his wrists together and succeeds. He grabs Pat and takes her away again before she can summon any help. However, it is not long before the car breaks down.

They hitch a ride with a circus troupe and the people of the circus pity them and protect them from the police at a roadblock search. The troupe let them sleep in their caravan and in the morning they are dropped off 2km from Soda City.

Soda City is a deserted town - an old calendar is dated 1923! However, a phone rings, but they don't get to it in time. They find a telescope which looks out toward a dam. Two Nazis named Freeman and Neilson turn up in their car. Patricia hides whilst Barry pretends he is one of them. Patricia makes a break for it and gets away and Barry goes with the Nazis to New York. Patricia has made her way to the local sheriff to explain her story - but it turns out he's one of the gang too.

In New York, Barry is taken into a hotel where a Mrs Sutton is holding a massive party - she is one of the leaders of this espionage group. There is a gathering of the gang in one of the upstairs rooms and Barry discovers they have Patricia there too. His cover is blown when Charles Tobin turns up and gives it all away. Pat and Barry try to escape and attempt to evade further capture by joining the crowd of dancers, but somebody 'cuts in' and whisks Patricia away.

Tobin and Kane have a face-to-face discussion of their differing opinions. Barry is appalled by Tobin's disregard for the masses.
Tobin's butler, Robert, knocks Barry out and the lock him up in the storerooms below.
Patricia is being kept in a room high up in the hotel. She scrawls a message of help on some card:

'Help. In Danger. Send Police. Look Up. Watch Lights Flicker.'

...and throws it out of the window where some taxi drivers see it. Meanwhile, Barry has set off the fire alarm and manages to escape during the panic.
Barry pieces the facts together and realises the gang are planning to blow up a bomb at the launch of a battleship. At the quay, he sees Fry in a van. He struggles with Fry and keeps him from detonating the bomb. Sadly, he doesn't succeed completely and the bomb goes off, thankfully later than it should have done, so there is limited injury but the boat is still capsized.

Fry and his co-conspirators take Barry back to their office but find the FBI and Pat waiting for them. They make a dash for it. Pat goes after Fry in a taxi and follows him to the Statue of Liberty. She calls the FBI from there and tell them to come. Barry goes with the agents and Patricia is trying to keep Fry from returning by using her womanly ways. However, Fry is tipped off when she uses his name. He tries to escape, but Barry and the FBI are making their way up the inside of the statue. He tries to hide by escaping into the left arm and climbing out onto the balcony of the torch. Barry follows him but Fry falls. He is clinging on to the statue's hand and Barry does his best to save him. However, the true saboteur's jacket rips and he plummets to his death. At least now Barry is exonerated.

Great Lines
With the glorious Dorothy Parker on board, one might expect a lot more witty one liners, but the script is still tight and clever with some interesting political comment.
However, there are moments of humour. My favourite is the following exchange when the truck driver makes a comment about Barry whistling Beethoven's Fifth;

Barry: "I didn't even know I was whistling!"
Truckie: "That's a sign you must be pretty happy - Easy to see there's nothing on your mind."

moments later...

Truckie: "You married?"
Barry: "Nope."
Truckie: "Go ahead and whistle!"

Tobin has a long speech about his feelings toward the American public and refers to them as "The great masses - the moron millions" which is a blinkered generalisation but that's a grumpy Nazi for you. If he was referring to the 21st Century audience figures for Two and a Half Men one might understand.

The final piece of dialogue I'd like to mention isn't particularly outstanding when written down, but within the scene and with the performance of Vaughan Glazer, it felt especially noteworthy due to its effectiveness.

Pat sees the handcuffs on Barry and lets out a gasp.

Blind Uncle Phillip: "What's the matter, my dear? Have you just seen his handcuffs? I heard them as soon as he came in."

Out of context, it seems odd, but it worked brilliantly on film.

Why on Earth doesn't the actor playing Ken Mason get a credit? Poor sod.

I can't help but wonder how the hell Barry got out of that storeroom just by setting off the fire alarm. Maybe someone let him out, but it would have been nice to see some evidence. Maybe the store had an inbuilt teleport system? Who can say?

There are two specific moments I want to highlight.
Firstly, when Patricia and Barry are dancing at the party to evade the spies, the camera is cosily close to them both and we follow them directly as they dance through the crowd. It's one of those subtle moves that one might easily ignore which makes it all the more effective. (It's like the best CGI in modern cinema is the kind that you don't notice.)
Secondly, the tense finale atop the Statue of Liberty with Fry hanging on for dear life as Barry Kane tries to save him. There is no music score. Just the sound of wind, the boats below and - ingeniously - the noise of the stitching coming loose.
My palms were sweating!!

My Verdict
Although just another variation of the 'Innocent Man on the Run' scenario (a particular favourite of Hitch's) it's still an exciting thriller. Not a masterpiece, but definitely a shining example of the genre. 7/10

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