Saboteur (1942)

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Released 26-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-(35:24)
Storyboards
Gallery-Hitchcock Sketches
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:55)
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1942
Running Time 104:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (81:11) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Priscilla Lane
Robert Cummings
Norman Lloyd
Otto Kruger
Alan Baxter
Alma Kruger
Dorothy Peterson
Clem Bevans
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Frank Skinner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   The more I progress through the films making up The Hitchcock Collection Volume One, the older they seem to get (at least as I go through them alphabetically). Saboteur is the oldest of the seven films offered in The Hitchcock Collection Volume One, and one of the two black and white films in the set. Since it is nearly sixty years old and made during World War Two to boot, this is thus far the poorest quality of the transfers I have seen in the boxed set, and arguably another of the more mediocre films here (at least by Hitch's standards), especially in the light of those passing sixty years. Unlike Rope however, at least this is remembered for one of the more unforgettable endings to an Alfred Hitchcock film.

   The time is World War Two and the war industry of the United States is cranking up and cranking out production like crazy. Since this is the war, the United States is in the grip of paranoia about Nazis and Japs as only the United States can get gripped about such things. Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) works at an aircraft factory in California, and has an inadvertent meeting with a bloke he presumes is a fellow worker, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd), as they head out for the evening meal break on the night shift. As they are enjoying their break, the workers are roused by a fire alarm. Dashing to the scene of the fire, Barry and his best mate are the first there to tackle the blaze. Fry passes Barry an extinguisher which his mate then grabs and heads off to fight the flames. Only problem is the extinguisher is filled with gasoline and the whole place goes up in a fireball that kills the young man. As the investigation commences, it would seem that no person known as Frank Fry is employed at the factory and thus the sabotage that killed the young man seems to have been the act of Barry Kane. The only hope for Barry is to try and locate Fry and thus he eludes capture and heads off in search of Fry - based upon the only thing he knows, the envelopes that Fry was carrying when they met, which had his address as a ranch in Springvale. Naturally the search is not that easy and at the ranch Barry meets Charles Tobin (Otto Kruger) who seems to be involved with Fry. Tobin has Barry arrested but he manages to escape and heads off in flight, which results in him meeting Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane). What follows is a cross country jaunt to clear Barry's name and locate the true perpetrators of the sabotage at the aircraft factory - before they can strike again at the Brooklyn Naval Dock Yards.

   This is certainly not a classic as far as the story goes and this is matched by the lack of any classic performances amongst the cast. Indeed, about the only classic thing here is the special effects and even those are so well known that they don't hold the same sort of wow factor they did fifty years ago. Frankly, I have never understood what sort of performance Robert Cummings was aiming for in the film, as at times he has the most ludicrous grin/smirk I have ever seen in what is supposed to be a suspense/thriller film. It is almost like someone has made a school yard dirty joke and he cannot get over it. Priscilla Lane (yes, she of Arsenic And Old Lace fame) plays the token blonde female lead well enough, even though it was not a role that Hitch required much from. Perhaps the standout amongst the reasonably ordinary cast was Otto Kruger, but I can't help but feel that it was more to do with the lack of quality around him rather than his own great thespian skills. Apart from a few interesting techniques, notably the climatic scene which has been dissected many times over the years, this was Alfred Hitchcock in almost film-by-the-numbers mode.

   Not amongst the best thing to ever come from Alfred Hitchcock, and a film that is not wearing the years well at all. Still, perhaps you might have seen the film a few less times than I and will find more to enjoy here than my jaded self.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The near sixty year old transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, since that was the ratio of the day (or at least very close to it) and it is obviously not 16x9 enhanced.

    It is generally a reasonably sharp transfer throughout, although there are a few noticeable lapses here and there to just highlight the age of the film a little. Detail is at best only good, but more often is only reasonable throughout, which no doubt reflects the time in which the film was made. Many of the backgrounds are seemingly obviously painted sets, and the background often lacks any sort of depth at all. Shadow detail is quite poor, which reflects the fact that this is a dark transfer and any time there is dark involved, it gets really dark. There is significant grain present throughout most of the transfer, that whilst not really serious is nonetheless noticeable and a tad distracting. Clarity as a result is not as good as we would perhaps like. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    This is something of a dark transfer as indicated above and as a result the black and white is not amongst the best I have seen. Indeed, having now seen what Universal have managed to do with the material, I am now inclined to be a little less harsh of the Laserlight transfers of even earlier films available through MRA Entertainment. With the transfer tending towards the dark side of things, the overall palette here is not the best. It lacks something in the way of vibrancy to start with, which compounds a relatively narrow band of black and grey tones. At times, this does not really aid the definition of the transfer, and overall has to be considered only reasonable looking. There is something of a lack of serious solidity to the blacks at times, whereas at others there is a little too much depth.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There is an exceedingly unusual artefact in the pan shot between 1:35 and 1:40, and my attempts to describe it are going to be woefully inadequate. It appears in the background against the corrugated wall and looks like a whole bunch of elongated black ovals moving from left to right across the wall during the pan. I don't know what it is but it is pretty obvious and quite off-putting. The only other artefact of note is between 46:15 and 46:45 where there is some noticeable wobble, but only in the shots of Bones, the human skeleton - suggesting that something was awry with the camera used for shooting these scenes. Other than that there did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, just some very minor aliasing that is barely noticeable. Film artefacts are quite prevalent and are occasionally quite obvious and very distracting, especially the large hairs.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 81:11. Well after a couple of shockers in this area, I suppose anything would be seen as an improvement. Well, this almost is, for they were obviously trying to place it in a black scene change. The only problem is that they missed it by about one tenth of a second. A near miss is still a miss, and in this case is too obvious a miss: the scene starts to fade to black, stops shy of actually getting black, layer change progresses with a ghostly image on screen, before continuing on to the actual black scene change. This really just looks sloppy, and as a result is very annoying and disruptive to the flow of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The consistent presentation of the films in the box set continues with the obligatory two soundtracks on offer on the DVD; English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. I listened only to the English soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up reasonably clear and is generally easy to understand in the transfer, but there are a few places where the dialogue gets just a little recessed. I am supposing that this is the result of problems in the source material. There did not appear to be any serious audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The original music score for the film comes from Frank Skinner, but really the film is probably highlighted by the lack of music rather than the score itself. Nowadays you get so used to the climatic scene of a film being telegraphed by hackneyed music that completely fails to do the job it is supposed to. Here, you get to the climatic scene and - where is the music? Yes, there is silence, broken only by small bits of dialogue as the climatic scene unfolds. Pretty decent change of pace in my view. When music is present however, it is not really that memorable.

    The standard style of soundtrack for the DVDs in the box set and nothing to really complain about. It starts out a little stridently in the Universal logo (thankfully they have left the original here which is a really nice change), and the thoughts immediately are that this is going to be an ear-shattering experience. Thankfully, it soon settles down to a more acceptable level and really sounds a typical mono soundtrack, totally central and nothing else. It is free of any distortions or noticeable blemishes, and does not tax the old speaker system too much.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Another quite decent extras package which is consistent with the other "new" films in the box set, with a bit of variety for good measure.

Menu

    In common with Rope, these are not widescreen presented and are not 16x9 enhanced, although the main menu does come with the normal audio enhancement. Again the theming is only decent (and again reflecting a commonality in the menus of the other DVDs in the collection), and the continued impression is decent enough without being truly spectacular.

Featurette - Saboteur - A Closer Look: The Making Of Saboteur (35:24)

    The more I watch these admittedly good efforts from Universal, the more I wonder whether they might have been better served by making them into one super documentary and placing them on a separate extras DVD. Following the same format of featuring interviews with some of the crew members involved in the film, supplemented by the obligatory behind the scenes photographs and so on, this is another quite interesting voyage through the making of the film. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The sound at times is not quite right and sounds a tad too recessed, but other than that the only issue here is that the video is a little shimmery when focused upon Norman Lloyd's suit and there is some minor cross colouration issues in the same article of clothing.

Storyboards

    A fairly bland presentation does not overly help the value here, and I would have thought that some annotation would have been more than handy. Since it only comprises 22 actual storyboards, it also is not especially extensive.

Hitchcock's Sketches

    Exactly what it says - a small collection of sketches done by the master to plan the scene shown. Again some annotation might have been nice, and the length is not especially generous, comprising only 7 sketches.

Gallery - Art

    Comprising 45 stills of publicity and behind the scenes photographs together with poster work for the film, they are all unannotated. Decent enough quality, but do I need to mention the lack of annotation?

Theatrical Trailer (1:55)

    Mind you, when you see the trailer you realize just how much worse the film itself could have been! A somewhat over-the-top tagline is used to sell the film, but no doubt plays upon the paranoia rife in the United States during the war years (heck, they even incarcerated their own citizens for no other reason than they were of Japanese descent). The image itself is quite diffuse, with some noticeably washed out colour and detail, whilst the sound is strident and extremely hissy. There is also a lot of crackle in the sound, so overall we are not talking anything great in the technical department here. For the record, it is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version misses out on:     The Region 4 version misses out on:     There is nothing compellingly different enough to unequivocally say one is better than the other.

Summary

    Saboteur is another decent enough effort from Alfred Hitchcock albeit one that in the glow of fifty odd years of hindsight is not especially memorable. The climatic scene is so well known now that it no longer holds the kind of grip that it used to, and the whole thing now is decidedly mundane. Definitely a product of its time, it has not worn the years lightly.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, July 03, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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