MovieChat Forums > Saboteur (1942) Discussion > So did Bob Cummings save the battleship ...

So did Bob Cummings save the battleship or not?


SPOILERS INCLUDED:



Though I'm a big Hitchcock fan, I never got around to watching this movie until last night. I enjoyed it--Bob Cummings was very likable as the hero and it was, of course, visually fun to look at.


But I do sympathize with some of the criticisms of this film. It does end abruptly--we don't get to see anything about the fates of Tobin, Snooty Old Nazi Lady, or the guy who had long curls as a kid. They were too important to the film to just drop away like that. Are they caught? Does Tobin get away to Central America? Gee whiz, I really wanted to see Snooty Old Nazi Lady in handcuffs!!!


I am a little more forgiving of the fact that Cummings keeps stumbling over people willing to help him get away from the cops. That was to set up Cummings speech to Tobin later on about the kindness of people living in a free society. It's still a bit corny, but I'm willing to buy it for the sake of the movie's theme.


But there's one thing I have a question about. I thought Cummings saved the battleship by keeping Norman Lloyd from pressing the button on time. But later on, Lloyd looks our the taxi window and smirks at the site of a capsized ship in the harbor.


Having only watched the movie once, I realize I might have missed something obvious. But I wasn't clear on whether that was the same ship, showing us that Cummings DIDN'T save the ship. Or was Lloyd gloating over some previous bit of sabotage? Does anyone know?


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No, Cummings does NOT save the ship, proving even good guys can't win 'em all.

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I used to think he succeeded, but now I think it was a previous bit of sabotage. When they go over the plans, they are quite specific that the slip must be exploded *before* the ship goes past, however it goes off *after* the ship has cleared the slip. Therefore, I think it is some previous sabotage.

Yes, the movie is a bit corny in places, but you have to understand the times. This movie was made *during* the war and the main purpose was to serve as motivation for Americans. I wouldn't call it a propaganda film, but it was made for the purpose of spurring on the Allies, it was Hitch's contribution to the war effort.

Hitch made two other films for the British that were straight propaganda, but this was not that. Call it something in the middle, but you can chalk the corniness up to the desire to evoke feelings of togetherness and bonding for the war effort. Still, it is a fantastic film. Hitch is king, long live the king!


"...nothing is left of me, each time I see her..." - Catullus

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You're right, the battleship was saved. The wreck in the harbor was the Normandie

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Yes he did save the ship. But Hitchcock inserted footage of a real life ship that had caught fire and capsized in its docks. The ship was all set to take troops to Europe.

This was Hitchcock's clever way of implying a previous real life sabotage. I was also a bit confused when I saw the ship but all is revealed in the 'making of' DVD extras. While meaning nothing to us now, the image of that capsized ship must have been fresh in the minds of an American audience in the 1940s.

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The capsized ship at her berth appears to be the actual Normandie (from newsreel footage of 1942, also the year of the film), which may have been sabotaged - or not. The Normandie was in the Hudson River, not the East River, where the battleship was launched in the film at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and where the explosion occurs on the ways, but apparently too late to damage the ship or to stop the launching.

Thus, while it appears that the battleship was successfully launched, the image of the Normandie, seen capsized, and presented without further explanation, may lead viewers to the conclusion that this was the battleship and it was, indeed, sabotaged at the launch. But this apparently isn't the case. Further, viewers of the film in 1942 would likely have been familiar with the ill-fated Normandie on her side, and would have not connected that ship's demise with the launching of the battleship.

Only as the years have passed, and the story of the Normandie has become less well known, does the linking of these images (the battleship launching, and the passenger ship on its side) lead to confusion and raise questions for the film's viewers as to what they are actually seeing, and why. Perhaps Hitchcock did not anticipate such confusion in viewers of later eras, or, perhaps, the image of the wounded Normandie affording Frye his smirk, was an opportunity not to be passed over, offering further insight into his character and single-minded purpose.

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That probably is the Normandie. It was being converted to a troop transport when welding sparks set fire to some Kapok life jackets. If the firedepartment hadn't tried to put out the blaze with so much water, it might have been saved. It capsized and sunk. It was later found to be unrepairable and was scrapped. It was NOT sabotaged.
The film battleship was not lost as the script says the explosive must go off as the hull passes over. In the film the battleship is behind the blast and slides into the harbor.

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No. When the Norman Lloyd character is in the taxi cab he looks over, sees the battleship on its side, and smiles.

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No, that's not the battleship that was launched at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but, rather, actual footage of the Normandie in the Hudson River. A different ship entirely!

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Just backing you up here, romarub; definitely the Normandie (which had been renamed Layfayette, and was in the process of being refitted as a troop carrier at the time of the fire).

According to Hitchcock, the shot of Frye smirking as his cab drives past the capsized ship caused some criticism, as it seemed to some to give the impression it had been the victim of sabotage (audiences of the time would certainly have been aware of the identity of the ship). The War Dept. was understandably sensitive about any such ideas, and particularly touchy about the Normandie/Lafayette. The NYFD had responded when the fire broke out, but the U.S. Navy took charge of the operation, and many claimed it was their mismanagement of the situation which resulted in the capsizing.

It's my impression that Barry's delay of the detonation of the bomb did, indeed, save the ship being launched, and that Frye's reaction to the Normandie was simply generic satisfaction at any setback of the Allied war effort, possibly combined with a somewhat rueful sense of consolation to offset his own failure.


Poe! You are...avenged!

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Further backing up some of the discussion earlier on this question, the ship seen capsized is the USS Lafayette, formerly known as the Normandie.

And the ship being launched which purports to be the battle cruiser USS Alaska is probably the battleship USS Iowa, launched on 8/27/42, which would fit in with the production time frame of the movie. The shape of the bow is definitely like that of the four Iowa class battleships.

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It's very clear in the cutting that the lauch ship is saved. The smirk was introduced by Hitchcock as a joke as it was the actual newsreel footage of the Normandie (completely different ship if you look at the stills) which had caught fire and was widely rumoured to be by sabotage at the time (but ruled an accident later). Same thing as Bond's double take of the Duke of Wellington picture in Dr No's lair - an in joke of the time which gets lost in history.

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I thought the battleship ended up on its side. I chalked it up to Hitchcock using stock footage of a capsized ship to show the demise of the battleship.

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Yes, Doghouse-6, I read Fry's smirky smile the exact same way you do - satisfaction at an allied setback, and consolation for his failure to sink the battleship at launching.

But why was Fry in the cab that far north (pier 88, where the Normandie capsized, was near 46th St.), if he was coming from the Brooklyn Navy Yard into Manhattan, and would most reasonably have gone over one of the three lower East River Bridges to Manhattan, when are all far south of midtown?

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But why was Fry in the cab that far north...
I'm afraid ya got me there.

Just one of those "movie things," I guess, like when the cars in Bullitt are in Potrero Hill in one shot and North Beach in the next.


Poe! You are...avenged!

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Cummings DOES save the battleship launched at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The capsized ship is the Normandie in the Hudson River, on the other side of Manhattan. The Normandie was sunk at the pier, and the battleship was launched down the ways at the Navy Yard - 2 completely different settings, readily seen.

But I can't figure out why Fry would be traveling downtown on the west side (towards the Battery and Statue of Liberty ferry) if he's coming from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He would have taken the cab from the Navy Yard over one of the 3 lower Manhattan bridges to Manhattan, then south to the ferry. I can't figure out how or why he was coming from the north, near 46th St. in midtown, where the Normandie capsized (pier 88), which he sees to his right from the cab.

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It is very confusing to see the ship on it's side and Fry smirking as he is driven by it. The saboteurs' bomb definitely went off after the launching ship was at least partway down the slip. That was supposed to be "too late." In any case the effect had to be very dramatic to audiences at the time. Remember that Saboteur premiered in April of 1942, only four months after Pearl Harbor and America seeing many of her finest battleships sunk and capsized. I take the overall message of the ship on her side as "We ain't won anything yet. Be ever vigilant!" And that was true!

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Just to add a couple more quirks to the list...

10) The explosion dipicted to sink the battleship hardly seems enough to sink a ship designed for "war".

11) On a more personal level... No way am I going over the railing of the Liberty torch to save an enemy of the State. Props to the character of the man brave enough to do it, but I'll pass. Maybe he was doing it to clear his name, but with the abrupt ending it doesn't seem like it mattered (to us anyway). I assume he was cleared with Pat's(Lane) testimony and his willingness to help the FBI to catch the real villain(s).


"Dog will hunt"

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I, too, was a bit confused after seeing the ship on its side - after all, Hitchcock and cinematographer Joe Valentine had gone to the trouble of showing us people being shaken up by the explosion. I think this was yet another 'macguffin'. Once I learned it was the Normandie all became clear.

"In my case, self-absorption is completely justified."

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