Alfred Hitchcock, often referred to as “The Master of Suspense,” was one of the first directors for Universal Pictures to utilize on-location filming. Hitchcock’s 1942 film “Saboteur” broke boundaries with coast-to-coast location shots, including here in Boulder City.
“Saboteur” is one of my favorite Hitchcock-directed movies, because it was co-written by the infamous Dorothy Parker. A true New Yorker, Parker started her career writing for Vanity Fair. Her notable wit contributed to getting herself fired, but it was a blessing in disguise. She took off for California, married a bisexual actor and was making $5,000 per week as a freelance writer for various movie studios during the late 1930s. It was during this time that she co-wrote the script for the 1937 film ”A Star is Born,” which earned her an Academy Award nomination for best writing.
When Parker signed up to work with Hitchcock on “Saboteur,” she had no idea her role as a writer would turn her into an actress, too. “Saboteur” was Hitchcock’s first film with Universal Pictures after parting ways with the man who gave him his Hollywood break, David O. Selznick. Selznick had previously worked with Parker on “A Star is Born” through his own production company, Selznick International Pictures.
When Hitchcock and Parker landed at Universal to make “Saboteur,” Hitchcock was determined to go big or go home. According to TCM.com, “Saboteur required more than 4,500 camera set-ups, 49 sets and about 1,200 extras.”
Hitchcock took “Saboteur” to Boulder City as part of the movie’s plot involved the real saboteurs preparing to blow up Boulder Dam, now known as Hoover Dam. Hitchcock didn’t cheapen the integrity of the many locations noted in the movie’s script as authenticity always seemed to win with the director when it came to deciding if he should shoot on location vs. recreating it on a movie lot.
Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane played the lead roles in this movie, which centers around an act of sabotage and a falsely accused man. Hitchcock originally wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the lead roles, but the budget for the film, as well as a lack of interest on Cooper’s part, prevented this from happening.
As per the director’s signature with almost every film, Hitchcock planned his normal cameo playing the role of an elderly husband. The elderly couple (the wife played by Parker) drive by the movie’s main character and make a remark about love. Hitchcock decided against the cameo after it was filmed, and professional actors were inserted in his and Parker’s place.
“Saboteur” didn’t have major talent playing the leading roles, but with Hitchcock’s directing and Parker’s writing, the movie rose to the occasion when it came to dishing out suspense. Surprisingly, it also was laced with political undertones, unnerving political conspiracy theories and a wealthy character whose double-face secretly funds an enemy group.
The film had pushback from members of Congress during its filming, but as we are coming to learn, Congress seems to have a love-hate relationship with Hollywood. Over 75 U.S. senators and 300 U.S. congressmen attended the premiere of “Saboteur” in (of all places) Washington, D.C.
Hitchcock went on to direct over 72 films, including the 1960s movie “Psycho.” He even has a 2017 directing credit (37 years after his death) for his 1945 contribution to an official British documentary on the Nazi concentration camps. This film was released Jan. 6 through Imperial War Museums.
Parker went on to be an outspoken outcast who fought for civil rights. She was also accused of being a communist, and the FBI kept a 1,000-page file on the successful writer. Parker divorced her bisexual husband only to remarry him and continued the on-again, off-again couple’s cycle up until his death by drug overdose in 1963. Parker died four years later, leaving her entire estate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Saboteur” captured the beauty of Boulder Dam back in 1942 as Hitchcock took notice of the awe-inspiring structure, but the movie also captured something else — what happens when the powers at be let ego and greed lead their decisions.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.