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Barry Kane, an average Joe plant worker, suddenly finds himself running from the law when he is accused of sabotaging the airplane factory where he works and causing his best friend's death. Barry is fairly certain of the real culprit, a mysterious figure named Frye, and pursues him across the country, both to clear his own name and to stop a network of fascist sympathizers from carrying out even more destructive deeds. Along the way he hooks up with a feisty model who at first believes him to be the villain but eventually trusts him. They fall in love, but time is running out, and they must join forces to stop the saboteur from striking again.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Frank Lloyd
Screenplay: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, Dorothy Parker
Cinematography: Joseph Valentine
Editing: Otto Ludwig
Art Direction: Jack Otterson
Original Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Priscilla Lane (Patricia Martin), Robert Cummings (Barry Kane), Otto Kruger (Charles Tobin), Alan Baxter (Mr. Freeman), Clem Bevans (Neilson), Norman Lloyd (Frank Frye).
BW-109m. Closed Captioning.
Why SABOTEUR is Essential
After nearly two decades directing pictures in his native England, Alfred Hitchcock came to the U.S. at the end of the 1930s to try his luck in Hollywood, but his first movies here still reflected the strong cultural influence of his home turf. His two biggest early successes, Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), were set in England and used primarily British casts. Foreign Correspondent (1940) had an American journalist hero but was set in London and the Netherlands. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) had Hollywood stars and was set in New York, or rather a very studio version of the city. As a screwball comedy, it was hardly characteristic of the master of suspense, and its witty tale of marital foibles could have taken place just about anywhere. With Saboteur, Hitchcock finally made a fully American film, one that took its lead characters on a coast-to-coast trek, ending up at one of the most American sites of all, the Statue of Liberty.
While traveling from Southern California to the remote desert to the streets and docks of New York, Hitchcock's beleaguered hero also encountered a number of distinct and quirky American types along the way: factory workers, truck drivers, cowboys, circus sideshow performers, cab drivers, billboard models, society matrons, "jitterbugs," and more. Intended as both a satire of his newly adopted land and a valentine to it, the movie became something more in its journey to the screen. The script, started before the U.S. entered World War II, was quickly adjusted as production began shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It then became Hitchcock's war propaganda effort, full of statements about loyalty to country and cautions about homegrown fascists in our midst who could appear to be ordinary and respectable people but with secret subversive intent. Foreign Correspondent had similar themes, but produced and released more than a year earlier, it was more of a drumbeat for American involvement in the European conflict. It also put Hitchcock under the scrutiny of authorities on the lookout for films that tried to undermine our supposed neutrality.
While effectively signaling the director's transition from his native country to the one where he would have his longest career and greatest successes, B>Saboteur also represented a stylistic link between the old and new, incorporating and extending the picaresque structure of The 39 Steps (1935) that would come to its finest fruition in Hollywood in North by Northwest (1959). Here, too, are a number of elements that would be refined and repeated in future films: the "wrong man" theme; the innocent hero in pursuit of the real villain with the law closely on his tail; the cultured, attractive villain whose outward respectability masks evil; the reluctant or hostile blonde heroine who finally capitulates to the hero's quest; the mystery story as journey toward self-discovery and romantic/sexual fulfillment; the use of important monuments and sites for spectacular set pieces; and, of course, the sardonic humor. With a plot so full of holes you could drive a train through it, B>Saboteur is also a perfect illustration of Hitchcock's notion that if you keep things moving fast enough and give audiences something more interesting to follow than just the basic mystery (aka the Macguffin), you can get them to go with you anywhere...and enjoy the ride.
by Rob Nixon
Hitchcock made an earlier picture about the same subject, albeit quite different in plot and very British in tone and setting, called Sabotage (1936).
Saboteur is often seen as a forerunner to Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) with its story of an innocent man on the run from the law and in pursuit of the real criminals, taking him out of his element and across vast stretches of the country. The final Mount Rushmore sequence in the latter movie is closely related to the Statue of Liberty sequence in the earlier one, and may be seen as Hitchcock's chance to correct his "mistake" in Saboteur, i.e., having the villain, not the hero, in danger of falling from a great height. The director always believed dangling the bad guy was a miscalculation that lessened the suspense because the audience didn't care if he fell.
The premise of the wrong man fleeing the law and pursuing the true villain across the country, encountering either hostility or support from various everyday Americans along the way, was also used with great success in the 1960s television series The Fugitive and its 1993 film version.
Hitchcock himself has acknowledged similarities between Saboteur and some of his earlier British work, particularly The 39 Steps (1935), in which Robert Donat goes on the run to prove his innocence and stop a spy ring, with an initially unwilling blonde (Madeleine Carroll) in tow.
The charity ball sequence, with its danger in the midst of gaiety and the audience's awareness that these upstanding society people are in fact fascists, is reminiscent of the big party sequence in the Nazi mansion in the director's later film Notorious (1946). On a broader level, the scene is also much like other Hitchcock sequences in which the hero is trapped in a very public place and unable to convince others of his situation, such as Royal Albert Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and the auction sale in North by Northwest.
The technique used by Hitchcock to depict the fall from the Statue of Liberty (pulling the camera back from the subject, then matting in the background) was also used for similar shots in Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958).
The Radio City Music Hall sequence recalls director Sam Fuller's notion that the only way to make a realistic battle scene would be for the audience to be hit by flying bullets while watching it.
It has been suggested that the hero's name, Barry Kane, was a sly reference to Orson Welles's landmark film Citizen Kane (1941). John Houseman, who had been a close associate of Welles, was also involved in initial planning for Saboteur.
Discussing the influence of certain of his films with Peter Bogdanovich for the book Who the Devil Made It (Knopf, 1997), Hitchcock noted that looking back over movies like Saboteur, Foreign Correspondent (1940), and North by Northwest, he noticed elements from them "taken over by the Bond things" and such films as The Prize (1963), particularly in the staging of pursuit scenes, which Hitchcock often staged atypically. "But what was then the avoidance of a clich has now become a clich," he said, pointing to a number of spectacular chases in spy and adventure movies of the 1960s.
In the movie Sydney (aka Hard Eight, 1996), the title character (Philip Baker Hall) asks John (John C. Reilly) to take the steering wheel while he lights his cigarette, as the truck driver does to Robert Cummings in Saboteur.
In the comedy Bachelor Party (1984), there is a shootout in a movie theater timed with the action and dialogue on the screen, a direct reference to the Radio City Music Hall scene.
There is a sequence set on top of the Statue of Liberty in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985).
The splitting of Mussburger's pant leg as he dangles in midair in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) recalls the splitting of the saboteur's sleeve preceding his fall from the Statue of Liberty.
The Wrong Guy (1997) is a spoof on the Hitchcock pattern, in this and other movies, of an innocent man pursued for a crime he did not commit.
The US Navy was not pleased that Hitchcock used footage of the real-life liner Normandie lying in New York Harbor after its destruction by a disastrous fire, because in Saboteur it is implied that the ship's demise was due to sabotage. The shot was removed from the film on its initial release but restored for the 1948 re-release. The ship was actually a French liner considered one of the most beautiful and fastest afloat when it was commissioned in 1935, the year it crossed the Atlantic in a record time of just over four days. Docked in New York when the U.S. entered the war after Pearl Harbor, it was commandeered as a troop ship and caught fire during refitting. Fire engines and fireboats pumped so much water into the ship trying to put out the flames that it capsized, the image that appears in the film. Sabotage was ruled out, although a German man in 1947 claimed he set the fire. The episode became the centerpiece of a spy novel by Justin Scott, Normandie Triangle, aka The Man Who Loved the Normandie (Arbor House, 1981).
Some shots in the Radio City Music Hall shootout sequence were also cut on the film's first run because of objections that they too readily identified the theater, but they were restored for subsequent releases. Ironically, many of Hitchcock's movies premiered in Radio City.
by Rob Nixon
Alfred Hitchcock and producer John Houseman became lifelong friends after Houseman was assigned by David O. Selznick to supervise the production of Saboteur when it was still a Selznick project. While the director was making Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the FBI came to question him about Houseman, whose strong anti-fascist sentiments had him under suspicion as a communist. Hitchcock told them: "I know of three great Americans: Washington, Lincoln, and Houseman." Houseman was born in Romania and raised in England.
Hitchcock and Norman Lloyd also became friends on this project. Lloyd appeared in one other Hitchcock film, Spellbound (1945), and later produced two of Hitchcock's TV series and directed and acted in several episodes of both.
Saboteur went slightly over budget ($3,000 not enough to prevent Hitchcock from getting the bonus his producer promised). It was edited quickly for an early Spring 1942 release and became a big hit. By the beginning of July that year, it had already earned 170 percent of its gross cost. In its initial release, the $750,000 picture made more than $1.5 million.
Hitchcock hated the previews imposed on him by the studios and considered audience response cards to be idiotic methods for shaping a film. After one such screening, the director muttered one of the lines from the picture, delivered by the fascist leader character: "The great masses, the moron millions."
Saboteur premiered in Washington, DC, in late April 1942 and went into wide release shortly after. It was not seen in most of Europe until after the war.
Although Hitchcock was not pleased about having to settle for Robert Cummings as his lead, he did use the actor again, in Dial M for Murder (1954).
Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto has noted the linking device of fire in this film. The saboteur (aptly named Frye) sets fire to the airplane factory and hands a victim a canister of gasoline to fuel it; the blind man invites Barry to warm himself by the fire; to escape the New York mansion, Barry sets off the sprinkler system, which brings the fire department; the final confrontation takes place on Miss Liberty's torch.
Totally immersed in working on the Saboteur script, Hitchcock missed his daughter Pat's Broadway debut in a play directed by Dudley Digges, who had replaced Auriol Lee. On the way back to New York after completing her role as Isobel in Hitchcock's previous picture, Suspicion (1941), Lee was killed in a car accident in Kansas.
Following his big break on this picture ("I always consider Saboteur as my first reasonably important film."), associate art director Robert Boyle went on to become a prominent art director-production designer with four Academy Award® nominations, including one for Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). The two also worked together on Shadow of a Doubt (1943), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964).
Boyle later related a story about working with the director on storyboards for Saboteur when a studio employee wearing an air marshal's helmet broke in and announced that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. When he left, Boyle said, Hitchcock asked, "Why was he wearing that funny hat?"
Saboteur was co-writer Joan Harrison's fourth and final script for Hitchcock, after winning Oscar nominations for Rebecca (1940) and Foreign Correspondent (1940). She went on to become a noted producer in film and television, including three of Hitchcock's popular television series of the 1950s and 60s.
Cinematographer Joseph Valentine later shot Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Rope (1948) and won an Academy Award for his work on Joan of Arc (1948), starring Hitchcock favorite Ingrid Bergman. He died at the age of 48, a few months after collecting his award.
The ranch hand who lassoes Kane off the back of a horse on the Tobin ranch was played by Kermit Maynard, brother of (and sometimes stand-in for) cowboy star Ken Maynard.
Musical director Charles Previn, who also worked with Hitchcock on Shadow of a Doubt, is the father of composer Andr Previn.
"He should have had a better tailor." screenwriter and frequent Hitchcock collaborator Ben Hecht's first remark after watching the film, according to Norman Lloyd, regarding the torn sleeve that dooms the villain to a fatal fall.
"I felt that it was cluttered with too many ideas.... I think we covered too much ground. ... The script lacks discipline...It goes to show that a mass of ideas, however good they are, is not sufficient to create a successful picture. They've got to be carefully presented with a constant awareness of the shape as a whole." Alfred Hitchcock in an interview with Francois Truffaut in 1962.
Hitchcock loved Dorothy Parker's script touches for Saboteur, particularly the scene with the circus freaks, but thought they were too subtle and mostly overlooked by the audience.
Memorable Quotes from SABOTEUR
MAC (Murray Alper): I've been thinkin' for long time I'm gonna get out of this truckin' game.
BARRY (Robert Cummings): Why don't you?
MAC: One of my neighbors told my wife it's stylish to eat three meals a day.
BARRY: A man like you can't last in a country like this.
TOBIN (Otto Kruger): Very pretty speech youthful, passionate, idealistic. Need I remind you that you are the fugitive from justice, not I. I'm a prominent citizen, widely respected. You are an obscure workman wanted for committing an extremely unpopular crime. Now which of us do you think the police will believe?
TOBIN: You have all the makings of an outstanding bore.
PHILLIP MARTIN (Vaughan Glazer): I have always thought that [hitchhiking] was the best way to learn about this country and the surest test of the American heart.
PHILLIP MARTIN: Would you mind not having any further quotations from the police? Their remarks are always so expected. They kill conversation.
PHILLIP MARTIN: I have my own ideas about my duties as a citizen. They sometimes involve disregarding the law.
MAJOR (Billy Curtis): No vote! I'm against voting.
BONES (Pedro de Cordoba): Fascist.
PAT (Priscilla Lane): Welcome to Soda City.
BARRY: The heart of the bicarbonate belt.
FREEMAN (Alan Baxter): When I was a child, I had long golden curls. People used to stop on the street to admire me.
Compiled by Rob Nixon
The Saboteur project began under David O. Selznick, who had Hitchcock under contract. According to John Houseman, assigned by Selznick to supervise the production, the director's first film under his new American contract, Rebecca (1940), had not been a thoroughly pleasant experience, thanks in part to constant meddling from the notoriously hands-on Selznick. Hitchcock also wanted to do something far removed from the stately mansions of England and came up with a sabotage thriller story. It was virtually a reworking of his British film The 39 Steps (1935) that pitted a blue collar worker with various societal misfits as allies against a cabal of wealthy Americans working for the Nazis. Despite the success of Hitchcock's previous film, Foreign Correspondent (1940), another political thriller with anti-fascist sentiments, Selznick did not like the idea, and after making a few suggestions, sold the script and Hitchcock's services to producer-director Frank Lloyd and Universal Studios. Lloyd's partner, Jack Skirball, was assigned the day-to-day supervisory details.
While the Universal deal was pending, Hitchcock initially worked on the script with English writer Joan Harrison, with whom he had collaborated since 1935, with the assistance, as usual, of his insightful and capable wife, Alma Reville. A reporter visiting the Hitchcock home during this phase of the work wrote about the three scripters rushing into different rooms with typewriters and manuscripts, working feverishly without notice of anyone else. He also observed Hitchcock gorging himself on "huge goblets of Strawberries Romanoff, a concoction of ice cream, fruit and liqueurs," then dozing off while the frenetic activity continued around him.
Harrison made crucial contributions to the story, but she was eager to get out and make it on her own in Hollywood and took a producing job at Universal. Hitchcock had been expecting her to leave, in fact had given interviews in which he predicted her eventual success apart from him, but at this point in the process he panicked at losing her and tried to get Selznick to come up with the money to entice her to stay. Instead, he got European-born Peter Viertel, a junior writer under contract to Selznick with no screen work to his credit but glowing reviews for his first novel. He also had a commendable pedigree: son of film director Berthold Viertel and the actress-writer Salka Viertel, who had been Greta Garbo's confidante and collaborator. So Hitchcock was appeased.
At their first meeting, Hitchcock referred to Viertel as "Dear Boy" and said he would teach him in 20 minutes how to write a script, launching into an elaborate explanation of the difference between types of shots, using musical terms to contrast establishing long shots (overtures) with close-ups (cymbal crashes). He insisted Viertel avoid lengthy passages and too much dialogue ("no speeches, please") and to focus on getting a script together "to get the whole project moving." Even after the dynamics changed with Pearl Harbor, Hitchcock tried to stay away from creating a message picture with dialogue he considered "too on the nose." He did, however, keep one instance of Viertel's breaking the rules, a rather explicit fascist speech by the fifth-column leader in which he sneeringly refers to "the great masses...the moron millions."
The character of the blonde billboard model who is dragged along by the hero in his cross-country pursuit of the truth was reportedly based on Hitchcock's friend, the model and beauty consultant Anita Colby.
Early on in the process, Hitchcock came up with the idea of setting the story's climax perilously atop the Statue of Liberty.
Viertel said he sometimes had to keep Hitchcock from repeating himself too much, such as the director's idea to give the fifth-column leader a physical flaw (an eye twitch or missing finger) and have it revealed at the end of a long dolly shot through the charity ball in the society mansion. When Viertel pointed out how Hitchcock had used a missing finger in The 39 Steps (1935) and the long dolly shot in Young and Innocent (1937), the director decided against his own initial idea.
Although the Universal deal was still in the works, Hitchcock and Houseman were obliged to trot the project around to other studios, part of Selznick's scheme to tout his own position and to drive up the price that Universal would eventually pay. As such, the sooner the director had a draft, the sooner he'd be out of Selznick's clutches. So when Viertel noted with chagrin that his first pass at the story on paper was not very good, Hitchcock replied, "It's no worse than a lot of others and it'll get me away from Selznick!"
The deal with Universal finally went through as the first of a two-picture contract with Selznick for the sabotage project and for Hitchcock's services on this and one future production. For this script alone, Selznick got the high figure of $120,000 ($70,000 on signing and another $50,000 after the picture grossed half a million). Selznick was also to get ten percent of the gross, and Hitchcock was confined to a $750,000 budget. Furthermore, the contract stipulated the second film in the deal had to be completed by June 1942, just over half a year away.
Although the budget of Saboteur was restrictive, Skirball decided to hire one of the country's top writers, Dorothy Parker, for additional script work and to hone what had already been done. Parker tweaked the scene with the truck driver, turning it into a mini-satire on the kind of blue-collar melodramas turned out by Warner Brothers in the 1930s. She also contributed the scenes with the billboard model's kindly, cultured blind uncle and the rescue by the troupe of circus freaks, which became in her hands a comic political debate between totalitarianism and democracy. Parker and Hitchcock also added more shots of the model's billboards (a device initiated by Viertel) for comic-ironic counterpoint.
Some of Parker's script additions caught the eye of the Production Code office, particularly her zingers aimed at the American upper class and capitalism in general. "There is a disturbing element which appears from time to time throughout this script and that is the great number of seemingly anti-social speeches and references," the censor noted. "It is essential that these speeches be rewritten to avoid giving this flavor." Some of the lines were filmed anyway, such as the blind uncle's remark that the police think that "frightening people is the first step toward protecting them" (a line the famously police-phobic Hitchcock must have relished), but it was cut from Saboteur before release. Another of Parker's quips - the observation that the fire department arrived at the upper class home much faster than it would for an ordinary dwelling-was also cut. A couple of others flagged by the censor remained: the uncle's statement that his duties as a citizen "sometimes involve disregarding the law" and Kane's warning to Pat not to trust the suspicious rich man Tobin "just because he's got a ranch and a lovely pool."
Hitchcock plucked Associate Art Director Robert Boyle from the Universal ranks to work closely with him on drawing the extensive and detailed storyboards for which the director was known, a move that greatly enhanced Boyle's reputation and future career. Boyle called him "a wonderful communicator" and remarked that of all the directors he had worked with to that point, "he was the first who not only told me what he wanted, he showed me."
by Rob Nixon
Hitchcock wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the leads in Saboteur and also reportedly pursued Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullivan, but he was unable to get them. The tight budget meant he would have to consider a less stellar cast, although he did meet briefly with Joel McCrea, star of Foreign Correspondent (1940), who would have been happy to do another Hitchcock picture, even for less money, if he had been available for the scheduled production time.
Hitchcock finally had to settle for Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. He thought Cummings was "a competent performer" but found his performance, and the picture, suffered because Cummings "belongs to the light-comedy class of actors" and had "an amusing face, so that even when he's in desperate straits, his features don't convey any anguish." He thought Lane "simply wasn't the right type for a Hitchcock picture."
The director was particularly distressed about not getting the villain he wanted. To convey the sense of these homegrown fascists being regular people, the ones you would least likely suspect, he wanted the very All-American former silent film actor and Western star Harry Carey. But Carey's wife was very indignant about the suggestion. Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut she said, "I am shocked that you should dare to offer my husband a part like this. After all, since Will Roger's death, the youth of America have looked up to my husband!"
Hitchcock also tried to get John Halliday for the villain role. The suave actor had retired from the screen after playing Katharine Hepburn's father in The Philadelphia Story (1940) and a supporting role in the Merle Oberon vehicle Lydia (1941). He was living in Hawaii, and travel restrictions imposed after Pearl Harbor made it difficult for him to be available in a timely fashion. Hitchcock finally settled on Otto Kruger, a capable actor but one the director found too much a "conventional heavy" for the counter-casting he wanted.
For the saboteur himself, Hitchcock wanted an unknown. Houseman recommended stage actor Norman Lloyd, who he felt fit Hitchcock's description of the character to a T.
The director wanted to be sure of a degree of authenticity for certain roles and was not averse to unconventional casting to achieve it. For instance, he pulled the company's best boy from the electrical crew to play the friend killed in the factory fire because Hitchcock thought he looked perfectly like a working man.
The filming of Saboteur took place between mid-December 1941 and February 1942.
Even with the budget restraints and casting compromises, Hitchcock was thrilled to be at Universal, away from Selznick and working with a new team, including studio cinematographer Joseph Valentine, who had just shot The Wolf Man (1941), an atmospheric horror film the director admired.
Universal was concerned with the 50+ sets Hitchcock ordered, including a vast desert scene to be built on Stage 12 with a reconstruction of part of a river and waterfall, as well as the set for the Park Avenue mansion's grand ballroom. Hitchcock cut corners wherever he could. The mansion set was built onto a staircase left over from a Deanna Durbin musical; a back-lot storage building became the doomed aircraft plant. He also included a number of mattes and rear projections, the use of which has long been the subject of debate about the director (ingenious cinematic statement or obvious special effect?). According to Associate Art Director Robert Boyle, Hitchcock knew "almost any shot will not hold longer than five seconds and that a matte in particular is going to be on for no more than five seconds. Then the audience doesn't have time to find the problems."
For the factory sabotage, Hitchcock simply used a shot of the front of the building with black smoke slowly billowing into the frame. Boyle said the director made a drawing "in which he drew just the big doors and then he did a big scribble. He said, 'There will be an explosion.' And I thought that scribble more illuminating than the finest drawing you could make."
For the shots of police inspecting the long circus caravan at night, Hitchcock created perspective by using vehiclesand peopleof different sizes, starting with full-sized trucks and extras at the closer end of the caravan, using smaller trucks and shorter people as it receded into the distance, and finally miniatures and cutouts with workable arms with tiny illuminations to simulate flashlights at the far end. In relating the story of how the sequence was created, Boyle said, "Hitchcock was never afraid to try anything, and if it didn't work exactly as he wished, it didn't bother him that much, as long as he got the sensation correct."
Hitchcock sent a crew under the supervision of special-effects cameraman John Fulton to New York to film Radio City Music Hall, the launching of a liberty ship in New Jersey, and the Statue of Liberty, shooting both stills and action footage.
The special effects crew took stills of the statue's upraised hand, her torch, and the ledge beneath it. These were recreated to scale on the Universal soundstage.
When the French liner the Normandie burned and partially sunk in New York Harbor, Hitchcock quickly dispatched a Universal newsreel crew to the scene to get footage that he later incorporated into Saboteur, intercut with studio shots of the saboteur smiling from the back seat of a taxi as he looks out on the supposedly sabotaged ship.
Even though he left the project before the beginning of principal photography, John Houseman's remarks about working with Hitchcock were indicative of the experience many people had on his films: "His passion was for his work, which he approached with an intelligence and almost scientific clarity to which I was unaccustomed. Working with Hitch really meant listening to him talk-anecdotes, situations, characters, revelations, and reversals, which he would think up at night and try out on us during the day and...the surviving elements were finally strung together into some sort of story in accordance with carefully calculated and elaborately plotted rhythms."
"He was very exacting," Priscilla Lane said of Hitchcock. "Unswervable in getting you to do exactly what he wanted. But he was always pulling little gags to keep the set a happy place."
Norman Lloyd was impressed by what Hitchcock called his "camera logic," i.e. knowing exactly where the camera should be to tell the story. He was also amazed at the detail of the storyboards for the Statue of Liberty sequence. In turn, Hitchcock was thrilled that Lloyd could do the back flip over the Statue railing himself so that he wouldn't have to cut away to a long shot or use a double but could stay tight on the actor for that shot.
A couple of slightly different versions have been offered about how Hitchcock got the shot of Frye falling from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur. One version claimed Norman Lloyd sat on a revolving, tottering chair, making appropriate movements; another says he was suspended on a wire. What is for certain is that he was shot against a black background while the camera swiftly pulled up and away from him, and the Statue and ground below were matted in later.
The only actor Hitchcock gave much direction to was Otto Kruger, who never pleased him as the head villain. Otherwise, he preferred to let the actors work out their roles in rehearsal and gave them direction mostly on timing in front of the camera. He believed he could solve any acting problem with camera work, such as filming Kruger's lengthy fascist soliloquy from a disconcerting distance.
Hitchcock's cameo appearance (a tradition) in Saboteur was originally going to be shared with Dorothy Parker. In the scene where an older couple drives by the hero struggling with the reluctant model on the side of the road, the director drove the car and the writer, as the wife, delivered the line, "They must be terribly in love." After watching the dailies, however, Hitchcock thought their appearance was too distracting from the story, so he re-shot it with professional actors. He then decided to cast himself in a cameo as a man using sign language to convey an apparently bold comment to a deaf woman (played by his secretary Carol Stevens), who promptly slaps him. But the studio thought that would be offensive to people with hearing disabilities, so Hitchcock decided to make his cameo extremely brief, appearing at the window of a drugstore. Blink and you'll miss him.
Saboteur required more than 4500 camera set-ups, 49 sets, and about 1200 extras.
Actors were sometimes shot from a great distance to convey the vastness of the American landscape.
A scene of the hero and heroine caught in a sandstorm was cut during editing and replaced with a shot of them huddled together on a rock.
To achieve the sensation of the people at the ship launch being thrown up in the air during the explosion on the dock, Hitchcock had the cameras pan quickly down each of the extras, from head to toe, and cut them together quickly.
by Rob Nixon
An enemy agent hangs from the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty. With remarkable prescience, Alfred Hitchcock created a succinct image of a nation rousing itself to war (the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor) as the climax of his new movie Saboteur (1942). It was Hitchcock's fourth film since his arrival in America and his first in this country to originate in his own imagination. Originally conceived as "the sabotage picture - an American picaresque," Hitchcock pitched it to the producer that controlled his contract, David O. Selznick, but Selznick's story editor, the later producer Val Lewton, did not approve, saying Hitchcock should be discouraged from making "the old-fashioned chase pictures which he turns out when left to his own devices." Selznick did not turn the project down, instead assigning John Houseman (he just finished from overseeing Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, 1941), to keep an eye on Hitchcock's scripting. As an in-joke reference, Hitchcock's hero "citizen" was named "Kane".
Lewton ultimately passed on the script calling it, "the sort that every studio rejects after the most cursory reading," so Selznick forced Hitchcock to shop the property around to other studios, causing ill feelings between the producer and his director since it not only showed a lack of belief in Hitchcock's abilities, but also because the terms of Hitchcock's contract would net Selznick a three-hundred percent profit on the sale. Ultimately the project landed at Universal Studios, not the most financially bountiful studio in Hollywood, and the money they spent acquiring Hitchcock and his script left little money for casting and production. Hitchcock tried to get Gary Cooper to play his falsely accused defense plant worker and Barbara Stanwyck for the girl he meets while running from the law. Universal nixed such high-priced stars, assigning lightweights Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane after a movie in which they were to star was cancelled. Another casting blow came in choosing the actor to play the villain. As the leader of the Nazi fifth column, Hitchcock wanted an "all-American" type as a reference to the right-wing American Firsters that were supporting Hitler in the years before the war. He approached cowboy star Harry Carey for the role only to be rebuffed by his wife, "I am shocked that you should dare to offer my husband a part like this!" Ultimately, Otto Kruger, often typecast as a suave villain, was chosen.
Universal, however, did opt for a name to punch up the script. Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker came in to write a few scenes, mostly the patriotic speeches given by the hero. Supposedly Hitchcock shot a cameo in which he and Parker are riding in a car and spy the hero grappling with the heroine in an attempt to silence her cries for help. "My, they must be terribly in love," Parker said before their car pulled away. Ultimately, the scene was dropped, the line given to another actor and Hitchcock's cameo re-shot as a fleeting appearance as a deaf-mute on a New York sidewalk.
On December 7, 1941, Hitchcock and associate art director Robert Boyle were working on storyboards when a Universal security guard wearing a Civil Defense helmet burst in and announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. After he left, Hitchcock's only remark was, "Why was he wearing that funny hat?" Nevertheless, the attack and the U.S. entry into the war heightened the urgency of the film. Hitchcock shot it in January and February of 1942 and it was released not long thereafter. Trying to stay on top of the news events, Hitchcock sent a second unit to shoot film of the U.S.S. Normandie after it caught fire and sank in New York Harbor. He then cut it into a sequence in which the saboteur sees it and smirks. The U.S. Navy objected to the implication that their vigilance was to blame and Universal obliged by cutting the sequence, only restoring it after World War II.
Saboteur caught the mood of the moment, doing very well at the box office even with its B-list cast, and making a tidy profit for all involved. Not bad for another "old-fashioned chase picture."
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Frank Lloyd
Screenplay: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison and Dorothy Parker
Cinematography: Joseph Valentine
Art Direction: Jack Otterson
Music: Frank Skinner
Editing: Otto Ludwig
Cast: Priscilla Lane (Patricia Martin), Robert Cummings (Barry Kane), Otto Kruger (Charles Tobin), Alan Baxter (Mr. Freeman), Clem Bevans (Neilson), Norman Lloyd (Frank Fry).
BW-109m. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady
Many critics then, as now, considered Saboteur minor Hitchcock but it did receive particular notice as being the first of his movies that looked and felt fully American.
"Mr. Hitchcock and his writers have really let themselves go. Melodramatic action is their forte, but they scoff at speed limits this trip. All the old master's experience at milking thrills has been called upon. As a consequence-and according to Hitchcock custom-Saboteur is a swift, high-tension film which throws itself forward so rapidly that it permits slight opportunity for looking back. And it hurtles the holes and bumps which plague it with a speed that forcefully tries to cover them up."
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, May 8, 1942
"A melodramatic journey from coast to coast shows Hitchcock at his best. It gives movement, distance and a terrifying casualness to his painful suspense. ... Artful touches serve another purpose which is only incidental to Saboteur's melodramatic intent. They warn Americans, as Hollywood has so far failed to do, that fifth columnists can be outwardly clean and patriotic citizens, just like themselves."
Time, May 11, 1942
"Saboteur is a little too self-consciously Hitchcock. Its succession of incredible climaxes, its mounting tautness and suspense, its mood of terror and impending doom could have been achieved by no one else. That is a great tribute to a brilliant director. But it would be a greater tribute to a finer director if he didn't let the spectator see the wheels go round, didn't let him spot the tricksand thus shatter the illusion, however momentarily. Like all Hitchcock films, Saboteur is excellently acted. Norman Lloyd is genuinely plausible as the ferret-like culprit who sets the fatal airplane factory on fire. Robert Cummings lacks variation in his performance of the thick-headed, unjustly accused worker who crosses the continent to expose the plotters and clear himself; but his directness and vigor partly redeem that short-coming."
"Nothing holds together, but there are still enough scary sequences to make the picture entertaining."
Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt & Co., 1984)
"...Saboteur, a monotonous chase film."
- David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film
"An incredibly ambitious film which is almost like a first draft of (maybe) Hitchcock's greatest film, North by Northwest (1959). It contains the familiar "innocent man, wrongly accused" etc. theme (as mentioned above in The 39 Steps (1935) description) which ultimately culminates in a thrilling climax at a famous American landmark....There are many memorable scenes (& expensive set pieces), not the least of which is the leading pair encountering a truckload of circus freaks while escaping their pursuers, a deserted mining town, a blind man's home, and a shoot-out at Radio City Music Hall."
- Classic Film Guide
"Lots of echoes of earlier British Hitchcock, plus the charmingly bizarre encounter with the caravan-load of circus freaks, the charity ball from which there appears to be no exit, and the classic climax atop the Statue of Liberty."
Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide (Penguin, 2000)
"Flawed Hitchcock action thriller, generally unsatisfactory in plot and pace but with splendid sequences at a ball, in Radio City Music Hall, and atop the Statue of Liberty."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide
"Saboteur is definitely not one of the best Hitchcocks but like almost all of his films has a number of classic sequences, especially the unforgettable Statue of Liberty conclusion. Made at Universal by a pickup group of studio talent during wartime it actually looks cheap now and then, as opposed to 'creatively minimal.' It was a big break for art director Robert Boyle, who went on to design many of Hitch's greatest pictures."
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
"It's hard, when watching Saboteur not to feel that you're watching either the dregs left over from The 39 Steps or a very early dry-run for North by Northwest. The fact that both of those films are vastly superior doesn't help but the negative comparison might have been less damning were it not for some key defects. The biggest stumbling block is the casting....Saboteur is interestingly liberal and democratic. This is partly because of its patriotic, anti-Nazi nature of course. But what is very noticeable is the sympathy given to the working class (represented by Cummings) and to social outsiders, represented by Priscilla Lane's blind father and, in a touchingly comic scene, a group of circus 'freaks'. The villains are all positioned in the upper-class and society is seen to treat them with instinctive servitude...There's also one major advantage that Saboteur has over all the other cheapjack spy dramas which were made during the war. It's directed by a genius. Admittedly a genius who was only half-engaged in the task at hand but still capable of coming up with brilliant sequences."
- DVD Times