Deathly silence and American values in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur

Alfred Hitchcock‘s Saboteur is an American spy thriller set during the Second Word War. The film contains many Hitchcock’s hallmarks, and commentary relevant to its time.


The film’s most famous scene is its climax above set at The Statue of Liberty’s summit, where hero Robert Cummings fails in his attempt to save villain Norman Lloyd. This scene is notable for its non romantic Hollywood neorealistic style with only a faint soundtrack of beating waves. As Mark Cousins describes in his landmark documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, “Noise would take away from the detail of the stitches loosening.” The silence distorts the scene temporally, amplifying the sense of anticipation and dread of the inevitable, the villain’s life literally hanging by a thread.

This scene is also notable for the hero risking his life to save the villain’s life. While this deed isn’t entirely altruistic we can see from the hero’s mannerisms that altruism plays a part. The villain is correctly labelled a saboteur as his organised guerrilla tactics are to cause sabotage, he’s not a terrorist whose tactics are to cause terror, but these two terms in context can easily be conflated sharing similar cause and effect. In both situations, citizens are terrified, and die, by results of sabotage against a nation’s weaknesses. Despite this, the hero, at great jeopardy to himself, believes the villain is worth saving.


However, the most prominent example of the film’s commentary on human rights issues occurs earlier where the hero – at this point the perceived saboteur – is found out by a kindly stranger (Vaughan Glaser) and his niece (Priscilla Lane). The stranger strongly reacts to his niece’s mandate that the perceived saboteur should be turned over to the authorities by replying, despite his status the perceived saboteur has human rights that should be upheld as a matter of principle. Innocent until proved guilty, despite his nation being involved in a world war of existential proportions and its citizens fearing infiltration around every corner.

Realising I’m arrogant asking the question rhetorically, would a Hollywood film commentate on similar matters in a similar manner today.

Reference: Saboteur – Wikipedia

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