Saboteur (1942)

One of my projects as of late is to watch more Hitchcock movies. Hitchcock has always been, like Ingmar Bergman, one of those filmmakers that I know I need to watch more of but never quite seen to find the time to do so. Sure I’ve seen the major works but it’s those B+ films where you really can learn the tricks of a master. So in recent weeks, I’ve watched The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man, Lifeboat, and Frenzy. Yesterday, I watched Saboteur. Like Lifeboat, it was fraught with anxiety about the war and indeed American society itself. In fact, Saboteur started shooting just weeks after Pearl Harbor. A running plea in both movies is for the labor battles and the class warfare of the 1920s and 30s to be put aside so we Americans can defeat the Nazis. (And with all the subsequent post-Reagan triumphalism about the war aside, the anxiety in these movies reminds us that we came really close to losing WWII. If Hitler where just a little less crazy…)

The plot of Saboteur is typical Hitchcock. An good-hearted average Joe named Barry Kane gets fingered as a saboteur in an airplane factory fire. He flees and encounters a variety of salt-of-the-earth type Americas. All of them believe in the common good and the common goodness of humanity to a level that seems impossibly naive these days. The only people who people that acts with the sort of hard-nosed self interest that is fashionable among economists and Ayn Rand enthusiasts everywhere are the bad guys. In particular, one Charles Tobin played with feline malevalence by Otto Kruger (who was weirdly enough was not only the grand nephew of South African revolutionary Paul Kruger but also born in Toledo, Ohio.)

At the obligatory scene in which the bad guy divulges his motivations, Tobin complains the current government (i.e. FDR’s) is not profitable enough. He argues that a dictatorship is much better for business. While watching this, I was reminded of Prescott Bush. Both Tobin and Bush were Wall Street bluebloods who had clear Nazi sympathies and Bush’s name did come up in the congressional investigation into the alleged coup attempt by the monied class against FDR and the New Deal. Fifty years later, Prescott Bush’s idiot grandson has done more to further the goals of Charles Tobin than any other American. He shredded much of the government oversight brought about during the New Deal and pushed America closer than any president in recent memory to a dictatorship. Like the good citizens of the movie, I think that only thing that save us from these criminals is a return to a belief in the common good.

The Garfield Factor: President James A. Garfield on one hand would have probably rejected the New Deal as being against his understanding of the Constitution. On the other hand, being a Civil War veteran and a man with a strong sense of right and wrong, he never would have supported any activity that hinted at treason.

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