Everybody knows the climax to this Alfred Hitchcock film: Man hangs by a thread from the Statue of Liberty. The rest, not so much. More artistic bunt than solid hit, it remains fun, fascinating stuff, Hitch’s first All-American pic after the faux British duo of REBECCA/’40 and SUSPICION/’41, the American naïf in war spooked Europe FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT/’40, and a one-off screwball, MR. & MRS. SMITH/’41. Working with a medium budget & medium stars, Hitch plays safe with a sort of Stateside 39 STEPS/’35 innocent-man-on-the-run story, loaded with exciting/witty, technically savvy set pieces and a striking physical presentation. (Especially the first two or three reels, and of course that amazing climax.) Just not enough of the sleight-of-hand narrative misdirection & storytelling economy of the earlier classic. Heading East as they tail the real saboteurs, Robert Cummings & Priscilla Lane struggle without the star wattage & glamorous likablility of Robert Donat & Madeleine Carroll. And there’s a lack of chemistry, not between Lane & Cummings, but between Lane & Hitchcock. Norman Lloyd makes a grand film debut as the 5th Columnist with weak stitching in his jacket sleeve, and supporting villain Alan Baxter glows with real Hitchcockian perversity going on about long hair on little boys. Yikes!
READ ALL ABOUT IT: It’s hard to argue with Hitchcock’s own assessment:
Looking back on SABOTEUR, I would say that the script lacks discipline. I don’t think I exercised a clear, sharp approach to the original construction of the screenplay. There was a mass of ideas, but they weren’t sorted out in proper order; they weren’t selected with sufficient care.
(From François Truffaut’s classic interview book HITCHCOCK.)
DOUBLE-BILL: The writing/directing team Powell & Pressburger took a similar trip across Canada in their superbly worked out 49TH PARALLEL/’41.