October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Please visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and packaging.
Hitchcock's answer to World War II propaganda took on his most beloved subject: mistaken identity. Many of his later movies with this same theme would go on to be considered classics, like 'North by Northwest.' In 'Saboteur' Hitchcock shows flashes of brilliance, but it's plain to see that this isn't the best work he would go on to produce. 'Saboteur' showed that Hitchcock was going to be capable of great things.
Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is the man in question. One day he's a simple factory employee putting together airplanes for the war effort and the next thing he knows he's the subject of a statewide manhunt on charges of espionage.
Before a raging fire breaks out at the factory, Barry runs into a strange man who drops a few envelops on the ground along with a $100 bill. He's curious about the man, but doesn't think anything of it. Then the fire ignites and Barry tries to help a friend by handing him a fire extinguisher. Only the extinguisher is full of gasoline and his friend goes up in a wall of flame. Barry is soon blamed as the saboteur and the police set out to catch him. Barry realizes that the man he met before the fire started knows more than he's letting on, so he sets out on a Richard Kimball-like crusade to clear his name and find out who is trying to set him up.
There are some great moments in 'Saboteur,' chiefly because Hitchcock has crafted a thriller mixed with a road trip movie. Barry is running from the law and trying to find the mysterious man he knows only as Frank Fry. Along the way Barry runs into a number of people who help him out.
There's a scene involving Barry's interactions with a blind man that is one of the best parts of the film. The blind man gives Barry the benefit of doubt and proceeds to impart wisdom about how believing in people is always better than finding them inherently suspicious. It's actually a very touching one-sided conversation that's had as the blind man talks about kindness, human integrity, and how he believes all people are inherently good at heart.
Barry also runs into a kind-hearted trucker and a band of circus freaks that would have every right to be suspicious of an outsider, but instead welcome him with open arms. There's this overwhelming sense of trust that runs through this movie. Barry is a good guy caught in the wrong situation and the people around him can sense that.
What 'Saboteur' lacks is Hitchcock's unrelenting sense of dread that is evident in his later movies. Here there are plenty of light-hearted moments where you almost feel like you're watching a different movie. There are plenty of Hitchcockian shots though. Over the opening credits the shadow of a man in an overcoat slowly moves across a set of steel doors. The shadow grows larger and larger as Frank Skinner's original score builds to an relentless crescendo. The opening of the film draws you right into Hitchcock's world of mistrust, intrigue, and espionage. It's an effective movie which harnesses the unease of the time.
While the story and its construction lack a bit of the tautness that makes many other Hitchcock films so exciting to watch, it's still wonderful to see a budding master at work. 'Saboteur' came out in 1942. Hitchcock wouldn't create masterpieces like 'Vertigo' and 'Rear Window' for another decade or more. Even so, it's easy to see those seeds of talent working vigorously in 'Saboteur.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there. For fun we've posted a picture of the section in the set created for 'Saboteur' so you can see what it looks like.
As far as I can tell this is one of the best looking movies in this set. When I first popped it in I had a bit of déjà vu, because it reminded me so much of the great-looking 'Twilight Zone' sets that have recently been released. Universal's 1080p, treatment of 'Saboteur' is a splendidly filmic black and white presentation that will please videophiles and fans alike.
The beginning of the movie, as the credits are running, has the most visible scratches and film damage. Specks can be seen and it can be quite noisy at times. However, after the opening the noise settles down, grain is consistently fine and cinematic, and the transfer shines to its maximum potential.
One perfect example of how intricate some of the fine detail is, there's a brief close-up shot of a watch at the beginning of the film. Along the edges of the watch you can clearly see that it has been worn and used for a long time. Minor scratches are easily visible along with some chips and dings. There's also some wonderfully vivid detail in the billowing smoke and raging fire at the beginning.
There are minor brightness fluctuations as the film continues, especially during the fade-ins and fade-outs. During these slight changes blacks will go from deep black, to a dark gray, and then back to black again. Many people will notice these fluctuations, but most people will chalk it up to its age because this "problem" exists on quite a lot of old movies that make their way to Blu-ray. In short, it's nothing that will unduly distract the viewer and is likely part of the original film process.
Blacks are inky, causing fascinating shadow detail. Hitchcock always knew how to use shadows and silhouettes to his advantage and with this beautiful black and white photography shadows really shine in this transfer. They accentuate details, call attention to important plot elements, and lend a general uneasy feeling to the whole proceeding. The transfer really conveys Hitchcock's sly use of shadows. In the end 'Saboteur' is one of the best looking movies on this set.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono presentation is quite impressive too. What really captivated me here was how solid it was. I've heard older movies brought to Blu-ray with lossless audio mixes that hiss and crack all the way through. I can safely say that I didn't hear one audible hiss or annoying crackling during the entire movie.
Instead dialogue was produced strongly, giving us solid coherency in what was being said on screen. Voices never sounded hollow or tinny. People's voices carried some heft here. It was nice to see that the audio seemed to be given as much treatment and care as the video.
LFE was surprisingly solid in this mono track. Sure the sub-woofer isn't getting involved, but the two front speakers handle the surprisingly deep low-end sound that accompanies a motorcycle engine revving for instance, sounds fantastic. Prioritization is near perfect here too. Frank Skinner's original score is heavy on the dramatic, but in never seems to drown out any dialogue. All in all, this was a really great sounding lossless mono presentation.
'Saboteur' isn't Hitchcock's best thriller, but it shows what the director was going to be capable of creating a few short years later. It's still very entertaining to watch as you can see his style and unique ways of storytelling evolving. With great audio and great video this is one of the best discs in the set. Like the set itself, it comes highly recommended.