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Film / Saboteur

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Saboteur is a 1942 wartime thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was his first film to be made with an all-American cast.

The protagonist is Barry Kane (Robert Cummings), who works at an airplane factory in California when a friend of his is killed in an act of sabotage. While the law thinks he is responsible, Kane goes on a cross-country hunt for the real saboteur, a man named Fry (Norman Lloyd). While on the run, Kane—in true Hitchcock fashion—gets involved with a sexy blonde named Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane), who initially distrusts him but gradually comes to believe in his innocence. Kane also discovers that the lethal fire at the airplane factory was started by a cabal of Nazi-sympathizing fifth columnists, and that the saboteurs have more attacks planned.

Dorothy Parker was one of three writers credited with the screenplay.

Not to be confused with Hitchcock's 1936 British film Sabotage, though they share some themes.


  • Affably Evil: All of the saboteurs appear to be lovely people outside of their work. Tobin the rancher adores his little granddaughter. Mrs. Sutton the New York dowager is hosting a fancy dress ball for charity when she isn't plotting treason.
  • Artistic License: The torch of the Statue of Liberty has been inaccessible since 1916, due to a German bombing during World War I that damaged it so it can't support the weight of people standing on the balcony. It's also much smaller in reality than the set for it depicts it as.
  • Blind Musician: Philip Martin, whose niece, Pat, becomes a reluctant ally to Kane.
  • Clear My Name: Barry is the prime suspect in the fire at the aircraft factory.
  • Climbing Climax: Atop the Statue of Liberty.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: While Barry is having his first confrontation with Tobin, the radio helpfully interrupts with a bulletin about the sabotage attack at the aircraft factory.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock did this in all of his movies. Here he is standing outside of a pharmacy window that says "CUT RATE DRUGS", at the 1:04 mark.
  • Disney Villain Death: Fry's death in the end.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Barry's friend Mason is distracted by a hot blonde, which causes him to bump into Fry. This is what drives the plot, since Fry drops some letters and telegrams, letting Barry know his name and where he's headed.
  • Dramatic Irony: The ballroom scene, where the bad guys are chasing Barry and Pat while they are trying to find a way out.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Charles Tobin and his young granddaughter. Also Freeman, who has two children.
  • Ghost Town: Barry tracks the bad guys to Soda City, NV, which turns out to be an abandoned mineral works—with a strategic view of Hoover Dam, a target of the saboteurs.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Fry seems to have a change of heart when Barry tries to save him in the final scene, promising he'll confess everything and clear Barry's name in gratitude. One never gets to see him fulfill that promise, as he plummets to his death despite Barry's best efforts.
  • High-Dive Escape: Kane eludes the cops by jumping from a bridge into the river below.
  • In the Style of: As a Road Movie with a quarreling couple (like It Happened One Night) and with an Everyman hero prone to giving patriotic speeches, this comes across at times as Alfred Hitchcock doing a Frank Capra imitation, a resemblance that would've been even stronger had Gary Cooper played Kane.
  • Jump Cut: There is a jarring transition between Barry emerging from the stairs to the observation deck on the Statue of Liberty's torch, to him confronting Fry.
  • Karma Houdini: Tobin. Maybe. Fry takes a dive off the Statue of Liberty, most of the other conspirators were arrested, and the cops would presumably have scooped up Mrs Sutton, but Tobin says the night before the bombing that he is leaving the country immediately. It's also downplayed, as we now know he's thrown his lot in with one of the 20th century's great losing sides, so no matter what he'll be screwed when the Allies win the war in three years.
  • Little People Are Surreal: During part of their journey, Barry and Pat travel with a sideshow, and the bearded lady, thin man, little person, and conjoined twins seem to parallel the then-current situation in Europe.
  • Living MacGuffin: Fry is a textbook example.
    Patricia Martin: Fry... He seems so small now, I'd forgotten about him.
  • Monumental Battle: Twice—the police chasing Fry through Radio City Music Hall during a movie, then the final battle on the Statue of Liberty.
  • Police Are Useless: As per typical Hitchcock, with The Bad Guys Are Cops getting invoked at a key moment.
  • Rancher: Charles Tobin has a horse ranch in the Nevada desert.
  • Repressive, but Efficient: Tobin cites this as one reason why he's working for Germany.
    "The competence of totalitarian nations is much higher than ours. They get things done."
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: At one point Barry threatens to leave Pat alone in the desert and reminds her that it's crawling with snakes at night.
  • Say My Name: As the last piece of spoken dialogue in the movie, Fry calls out Kane's name as he falls to his death.
  • Scenery Porn: The Statue of Liberty.
  • Secondary Character Title: Fry, the actual saboteur, only appears at the beginning and end of the story.
  • Shout-Out: No, the hero being named Kane wasn't a coincidence. John Houseman, fresh from his We Used to Be Friends breakup with Orson Welles, helped Hitchcock with the initial draft of the story and chose the name as a deliberate reference.
  • Smug Snake: Tobin
  • Spies In a Van: At the launching of the battleship, Fry and his fellow conspirators are hiding inside a newsreel van, where Fry will push the button that blows up the launch and sinks the battleship.
  • Stock Footage: A latter-day viewer might see the clip of the capsized ship and think that Fry succeeded in his mission. The shot actually shows the SS Normandie, a Real Life ocean liner which really did catch fire and capsize in 1942. So Barry succeeded in stopping Fry from sinking the USS Alaska, but Fry's smirk implies that his group was behind the earlier loss of the Normandie.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Let's just say that this film is more than a little bit similar to a previous Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps. Robert Cummings even comes off as a bit of a Poor Man's Substitute for Robert Donat.