it certainly explains the travelling circus

Film Alfred Hitchcock’s homage to his own British films, Saboteur offers references to most of these earlier movies within, some cheekier than others. The structure mirrors The 39 Steps and Young and Innocent – a wrongly accused man (pictured above) chases across country to prove his innocence picking up a lady along the way who is initially suspicious of him but ultimately falls for his charms. Like Sabotage, there’s a secret organisation committing terrorist acts and there’s a game changing scene in a cinema. At one point a knife drops to the floor like murder weapon in Blackmail, there’s a joke about triangles which Rohmer and Chabrol (in their book The First Forty-Four Films) suggest is Hitch’s way of laying to rest the love triangles which were once a prominent plot detail. Classical music runs through it recalling Waltzes from Vienna (that may be a stretch) and a villain falls to their death from a landmark (Blackmail again) and a great height (Jamaica Inn).

It’s the first time Hitch is able to marry the lush visuals of his domestic dramas with a big episodic structure. Foreign Correspondent has some interesting shots, such as the chase through the Magritte landscape of bowler hats and black umbrellas, but it was mostly a b-picture. Saboteur opens with a fire in a munitions factory (not unlike the house at the close of Rebecca), and Hitch holds on the main doors of the factor as pitch black smoke engulfs his frame like Octopus ink in an aquarium tank. Later, when the central couple are dancing their way to some protection at a party, the camera stays on them as the rest of the guests swirl around in the background, obliviously continuing to enjoy themselves as their hosts plot our hero's death. The overall impression is that Hitch has realised that even his thrillers can be beautiful. He talks often talks about putting the camera in the best place to tell the story and this perfect example of that.

It's a corking script too, literate and surprising. Dorothy Parker's fingertips can be seen all over the film to a smaller or larger extent, particularly during the aforementioned highly poetic triangle scene and it certainly explains the travelling circus. The accused man and his companion, still are on the run, stow themselves away in their sleeping quarters. His reaction, essential gratitude and humanity when faced with this menagerie, is what convinces her that he can't be guilty. TCM have a clip here and it's precisely the kind of unpredictable, unexpected moment that seems to be missing from mainstream genre movies these days. About the only criticism could be that once again the love affair between the leads seems rather sudden but that's more than likely a convention of cinema at the time. It's also rather sweet.

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