Saturday, January 21, 2017

'Sabotage' BD: Pre-WWII Propaganda Apt for 2017



The Olive Films January 24, 2017 Blu-ray release of the charmingly wholesome 1939 drama "Sabotage" is a prime example of why the monthly Olive release date is a very special day. This day also being when Olive releases the (soon-to-be-reviewed) two seasons of the Steven Bochco dramedy "Hooperman," which stars John Ritter as the titular compassionate cop/reluctant landlord, makes this Tuesday particularly noteworthy.

"Sabotage" is notable both as a delightful portrait of Americana that sadly would be laughed out of the multiplexes of today and as a quasi-subtle propaganda film from the era leading up to World War II. The Jimmy Stewartesque everyman hero this time is 20-something Tommy Grayson, who is a machinist at the local manufacturing plant where his father Major Matt Grayson is spending his post-Army days as the nightwatchman. Veteran (pun intended) character actor Charley Grapewin brings the same warmth to his portrayal of Matt as he shows in playing Uncle Henry in "The Wizard of Oz."

Everything is Jake for Tommy in the early part of "Sabotage." He has a good job and is engaged to initially reluctant stage performer Gail. On top of that, the plant getting a new military contract to build planes is good for that business and its employees.

The trouble begins when a high-profile demonstration of a new plane ends in a fiery crash that looks terrific in the enhanced Blu-ray format and would look even better in a contrasting splash of color ala "Oz." The ensuing investigation rapidly concludes that Tommy is the culprit behind both this incident and similar mishaps.

The town believing that Tommy is responsible for the crash is enough to make him a pariah; the economic fallout from the accident and Tom being engaged to a woman who is judged to be loose solely based on her practicing a very old profession is enough to figuratively prompt a run on tar and feathers at the local dry goods store.

Family loyalty is enough to stir Gail and Grayson brother Joe to action. Matt encountering the real malfeasors while on the job provides additional certainty and related frustration regarding the plant owner not believing him. This amps up the propaganda in the form of Matt literally rallying the troops to prove that his boy is innocent.

Meanwhile, the audience learns that the crash is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to undermine the American way of life. Having the conspirators literally being friends and neighbors (as well as other folks that many of us would never suspect) enhances the propaganda element of the film. This is a precursor to (sometimes justified) paranoia regarding Nazi spies; this leads to the Red under your bed Cold War hysteria. The 21st century version of this is that every creepy basement-dwelling loner is a terrorist and every knapsack that is left unattended for five minute contains a bomb.

The fact that flimsy circumstantial evidence is enough to make Tommy a guest of the state is just as scary and relevant as the paranoia aspect of "Sabotage." This presumption of guilt is even more prevalent today and is predicted to only worsen.

Tommy having a Hollywood ending and the real culprits being brought to justice is no surprise in the film that strictly adheres to the Hays Code. The real artistry comes in the form in which the bad guys are coerced into 'fessing up. The multiple twists show that no one should be underestimated.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Sabotage" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.