The earliest film included in the Hitchcock Masterpiece Blu-Ray Collection, Saboteur offers viewers a chance to see the master before the string of films he is most remembered for (Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, to name but three) but long after he had established himself as a first class director.
The wartime story follows Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) as he is framed for a murder he did not commit. We pick up the story as Kane, a worker in an aircraft factory, is accused of causing a fire that kills his friend Mason (Virgil Summers), though he believes that it is a mysterious man named Fry (Norman Lloyd) who is really behind it. Kane is quickly being embroiled in the unravelling of a complicated cover-up involving a whole array of people he comes across, all seemingly involving a secret community of saboteurs attempting to fulfil a plot to blow up the USS Atlanta battleship. His eventual companion and love interest comes in the form of Pat Martin (Priscilla Lane), who provides a counterpoint to his story arc and is a very intriguing character in her own right.
The first thing to say is that this is not vintage Hitchcock. The cast will be largely unfamiliar to modern cinema fans, though that is not to say they are all terrible. The storyline is enticing but not gripping, with a number of conveniences allowing an easy route to the next step of the journey. Actually, the plot is at time nonsensical and you have to forgive this to enjoy it. Some of the acting is below par, particularly from the Mason housemaid and the blind father of Martin, whose performance is afforded a rousing and self-righteous speech about what it is to be a real American.
There are a few hallmarks of the great director on display though. Of course he gets his cameo, this time quite early on in the film. It is quite standard, though this was mainly due to Hitchcock appeasing the censors by cutting his originally planned argument between two deaf-mute pedestrians. We also see a much-revisited theme: an innocent man presumed guilty and on the run from the police. It’s a joy to see an early take on this, though admittedly it would later be trumped several times by Hitchcock as he created some of the greatest films ever made.
One thing I loved was the climactic scene on top of the Statue of Liberty. It’s actually worth watching just for this scene, with some brilliant close-up shots and clever cutting between parallel stories building the tension into a frenzy as a life hangs by a thread. It truly is a masterclass in suspense and at this early stage was merely a hint of what Hitchcock would achieve later in his career.
The best way I can think to sum this up is that it’s a great place to start for people looking to investigate the underbelly of Hitchcock’s vast catalogue of films. With the 14-disc Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection currently on sale for a mere £34.99 at Zavvi, now is the perfect time to start.