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Terrorism of 'Saboteur' Is Timely Once Again

February 07, 1991|TED JOHNSON

A war is going on, and Southern Californians are obsessed with the prospect of a terrorist attack.

When a munitions plant is set afire, an unjustly accused worker flees across the country, eventually uncovering a spy ring and the real saboteurs.

Given today's concerns over terrorism stemming from the war in the Persian Gulf, this could be a contemporary plot. But "Saboteur" (1942), an unusual and suspenseful World War II espionage adventure from Alfred Hitchcock, reminds us that these fears are nothing new.

Robert Cummings stars as the munitions worker who goes on the lam following clues in a journey that takes him hitchhiking through the desert and riding with a circus convoy. He eventually faces off with the real saboteurs, a ring of spies plotting to sabotage the launch of a warship in New York City.

The movie is at times intensely melodramatic, especially in scenes in which Cummings tries to convince skeptics that he is innocent and patriotic. And it sometimes seems as if the script got some tinkering from the U.S. war propaganda department.

Presumably, the saboteurs are being backed by the Nazis, but the movie never really tells their motives.

The saboteurs are not identified--they have no accents and show no allegiance to Nazi Germany. They could be anyone--from next-door neighbors to the local police. Throughout the movie, viewers are kept in suspense as to whether those Cummings befriends are actually the culprits.

The highlight is a finale atop the Statue of Liberty--a parallel to the Mt. Rushmore showdown of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest."

Oddly, the climax in "Saboteur" has no background music, and in some spots no sound at all. Today's audiences are so accustomed to background music that this climax may appear a bit awkward. But the silence atop the statue is suspenseful if not a bit eerie, and it makes the scene all the better.

The movie also stars a young Norman Lloyd (of TV's "St. Elsewhere"), Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger, Alan Baxter and Alma Kruger.

"Saboteur" (1942) , directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 108 minutes . Not rated.

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