SABOTEUR ( 1942 ) ~ AMERICA HANGS BY A THREAD

The Police. Do they ever get it right? Geez!! The wrong man has been Hitchcock’s theme in many of his movies. And “SABOTEUR” uses it as well. Airplane factory worker, ROBERT CUMMINGS is wrongly accused of setting fire to the plant. We know he didn’t do it, but the police weren’t sitting next to us in the audience, so they haven’t a clue. With just the flimsiest of leads, Cummings goes on the trail for the real saboteur. Cummings is good. He’s clean cut, earnest, all-American and believable. It wouldn’t be a “wrong man” film, if Hitch didn’t have ‘The Disbelieving Girl’ by our hero’s side who comes to believe and love him. And yes, she is a blonde. Fitting that disbelieving bill very nicely is PRISCILLA LANE. She’s shamed by a community of circus folk into giving our hero a break. In fact, Cummings is shown interacting with “just-plain-Americans” giving him just that inch of a break. Hitch shows examples of our American character back then: fair, helpful, giving a fella an even break that’s warming to see.

Hitchcock also gives many satisfying jolts of suspense throughout “Saboteur”:

  • cutting the handcuffs with a car engine
  • police questioning the circus caravan ( include muzzling that weasel who wanted to squeal )
  • escaping a fancy dress ball
  • the pièce de résistance – the Statue of Liberty ( that seam unravelling is killer; I’m sure tailors all over the country were aghast. )

Of course I must give a shout-out to a great Hitchcock villain. I’m not meaning NORMAN LLOYD who was wonderfully serpentine as Frye, the beady-eyed villain you could see coming from a mile away, and who was very menacing by saying very little. ( In real life Lloyd is loquacious indeed, regaling us with his show business tales at a few TCM Film Festivals. ) This time the great Hitchcock villain I’m actually talking about is the capitalist named Tobin played by OTTO KRUGER. Kruger plays Wealth ITSELF, with big house, swimming pool and a network of tentacles that keep his own hands clean. This exchange:

CUMMINGS: “Why is it that you sneer every time you refer to this country. You’ve done pretty well here. I don’t get it.”

KRUGER: “You’re one of the idle believers. The ‘Good American.’ Oh there are millions like you. People that plod along without asking questions. Hate to use the word stupid, but that seems to be the only one that applies. The ‘Great Masses’. The ‘Moron Millions.’ Well there are a few of us that aren’t willing to troop along. A few of us who are clever enough to see that there’s much more to be done than just live small complacent lives. A few of us in America who desire a more profitable type of government…”

Interesting how Hitchcock keeps Kruger in a long shot delivering this speech, as he cuts the camera closer and closer to Cummings bringing us closer to him, not Kruger. I love Otto Kruger’s voice. Yes, he might’ve had a magnificent obsession with Dracula’s daughter but here Hitchcock uses Kruger in all his condescending sibilantly-spoken glory as the villain you don’t see coming ( a la Joseph Cotten, James Mason, Claude Rains or use your own etceteras. ) Kruger may be the kindly grandpa or the well~respected, well~heeled high society guy. But his villainy is more insidious. He not only wants to explode America from the outside with fires and bombs, but he wants it to implode her from within. Hitchcock’s done it again.

From the out of the past of 1942, this movie sounds very horribly current to me.

 

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FORD & HITCHCOCK: A TALE OF TWO MEN

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Heavens to Murgatroid…I’m no scholar. No aficionado. I have a passing knowledge of one…and am a groupie of the other. JOHN FORD and ALFRED HITCHCOCK are two of the most famous directors in the history of movies. ( Psst! I CONFESS: The reason I even put Ford’s name first is to curry favor from his fans so they won’t roast me on the luau pit. You understand, Hitchcock fans… ) Here are two young men from different backgrounds and different countries, telling stories through images. Their work will span decades and is still revered today.

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A DIRECTOR BY ANY OTHER NAME

Fans in both camps have affectionate nick names for these two directors.

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ICONIC MOMENTS

I was struck by these particular moments in both directors’ films for a variety of reasons. These iconic moments are instantly recognizable by any fan of these two men:

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I like the similarity of the doorway shots of Wayne and Stewart ( who’ll soon appear together in Ford’s 1962 classic “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” ). Are both men at the end of their rope here? One doesn’t seem to be able to get through the door to join The Family. The other has lost The Dream…the illusion. “North by Northwest” here just represents the Impossible. They are hanging by a thread. Hitch pushes the envelope even further in “NxNW” when he has Martin Landau step on Cary Grant’s hand. The tension is impossible. I love the shot of Roddy McDowall from “How Green Was My Valley.” This little boy is becoming a man waay before his time…seeing things a boy should not see. One grows up too quick, fast and in a hurry in coal-mining Wales. Roddy and James Stewart share the utter stunning loss that leaves them motionless. Frozen in time; not seeing. Am I reaching? Am I stretching. I dunno. You tell me.

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THE LAWS OF ATTRACTION

Sometimes we fight attraction; sometimes we give in to it.

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I finally saw “The Quiet Man” at the TCMFF last April and was really taken with it. It was love at first sight for them both; but Wayne has to really fight for O’Hara’s love in a way that she would understand and feel. Oh yeah…that kiss in the graveyard when it rains. WoW! I haven’t seen “They Were Expendable” yet, but I want to. How to make love normal, under conditions of war…in spite of war. Besides, aren’t the Duke and Donna Reed so cute together? ( And both from Iowa, too. )  I have a germ of an idea to explore ‘John Wayne In Love’ in movies and what that looks like. He’s adorable and heart-felt. Cary Grant & Grace Kelly. << Sigh! >> Hitchcock’s creme de la creme of gla’mour and l’amour. Fireworks? Hah! What a great metaphor Hitch uses in “To Catch A Thief.” “Vertigo” – my favorite as you know. Is love built on deception, delusion, illusion, obsession not really Love?  Perhaps it’s the love that burns the hottest. Hey, I’m just asking questions.

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AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

Instantly recognizable, right?

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Hitchcock and Ford took two American landscapes and turned them into their own personal avatars. I need to see both of these up close and personal. You can’t think of either setting without thinking of the director who used them. They’ve made them their brand. I mean, who does that?

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RESCUE ME…or LOVE, PAIN & THE WHOLE DAMNED THING

C’mon. You know you breathed a sigh of relief when both Wayne and Grant take these ladies into their arms.

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Both men come to terms with the journey they take to rescue someone they really love. They stop fighting themselves and their pre-conceived notions and get to rescuing. Admitted “fat-head” Cary Grant scooping a poisoned Ingrid Bergman outta that bed is the stuff of dreams, right girls? Who cares if you need a stomach pump. There’s a den of Nazis downstairs in “Notorious” and Cary Grant is whispering in your ear: he’ll protect you. John Wayne as Ethan in “The Searchers.” Hell bent in his search and destroy mode until Debbie’s in his arms. All his hate is released. After all, she IS Family. Ford and Hitchcock show these men come to the rescue. ( …about time, fellas. )

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STATE OF MIND

The mind is a terrible thing to waste…

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…But a great set-piece is a wonderful metaphor to use. Each director expresses our hero’s state of mind in a different way. That crazy staircase that is James Stewart’s source of guilt and triumph. He’s cured of vertigo though he loses his girl. ( The operation’s a success but the patient… ) “…Liberty Valance.” You all know the movie better’n than me. I just know seeing Wayne go loco with pain over not having Vera Miles broke me down. The MacGuffins of both movies hide the lovesick pain in plain sight.

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TWO HEADS ARE BETTER ‘N ONE

Andy Hardy never had such a man-to-man talk.

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Collaboration at its best. I think Wayne and Grant might be Ford and Hitchcock’s favorite leading men. What director wouldn’t want to live vicariously through the suaveness and virility of each man. Big, strong, handsome men of action. Alter egos of each director.

Perhaps this is a cinematic Rorschach test. Hopefully this post will spur folks more knowledgeable about each director, to contribute their thoughts on the similarities of these two men. I’ve merely scratched the surface.

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TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN: THE TIES THAT BIND…IN A GOOD WAY

Ahhhh! got’cha. I bet you thought I was going to talk about “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Not yet. Now…there’s a stream of consciousness to my thinking about movies. One movie reminds me of another and another and this star worked with that one in this movie which reminds me of that movie which was directed by this director who worked with that actor who…

You get the idea.

Am I alone in daisy-chaining movie-related things? Hopefully it wasn’t too too crazy my linking Alfred Hitchcock ( finally I give him top billing ) with John Ford as I did with my post above. I daisy-chained my way to thinking about directors. Yes, we all know those great on-screen classic teams like Garbo and Gilbert, Tracy and Hepburn, Fred and Ginger, Powell and Loy, Flynn and deHavilland, Bogie and Bacall…and the list goes on.

But my thoughts ran back to directors and the stars they collaborated with. Working in a studio was a big help in fostering those relationships. Who really had a partnership of creativity and success? How many could I come up with. Any 0NE of the movies these collaborations produced would be a dream to have under one’s belt. But these folks worked together several times to create classic gems. Can you name who I have here? If you think of any collaborative efforts I missed, let me know.

DIRECTORS COLLAGE

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