Movies and TV shows are just full of all sorts of ordinary people who take it upon themselves to solve crimes. Don’t worry about pesky things like rule of law or chain of evidence…as long as we’ve got little old ladies who write murder mysteries, or meddling kids who drive around in psychedelic vans with their pet dog, criminals better beware. Well in our film today, it’s up to a punch of plucky old vets to get to the bottom of things in the 1939 film Sabotage.
Now, before you get all confused…this is not the Hitchcock film of the same name. That came three years earlier. In this film our story focuses on Tommy Grayson (Gordon Oliver), a young man who works as a mechanic at his small hometown’s aircraft factory. Most of the town works there, in fact, including his father, known as the “Major” (Charley Grapewine), who works as night security guard. Things seem good for Tommy, after all, he’s about to marry a former showgirl named Gail (Arleen Whelan). Unfortunately, there have been several problems with planes made at the factory. After the most recent military test ends in a crash that leaves several men dead, investigators determine that the defective parts came from Tommy’s work station. He is locked up, accused of being a saboteur.
Right about the same time, the Major has an odd encounter with some men sneaking around the factory at night. He captures one of the men, who reveals his name only to then be shot by his buddy who got away. After the Major calls the cops, though, he returns to find no body. Of course, everyone thinks the old man has lost it. Things get worse when the factory closes due to the controversy and the whole town takes out their anger on the Grayson family. The Major and Gail are determined to get to the bottom of things, though, so they enlist the help of three of the Major’s old military buddies as they track down a ring of saboteurs working in their own little all-american town.
Sabotage is an entertaining little thriller that, though only a compact 65 minutes in length, gets a little too complicated for its own good. I admit, I wasn’t always successful at following things when it starts getting into the tools from Tommy’s desk being faulty, etc, etc. I just kinda had to roll with it and take the character’s word that they’d discovered some sort of damning evidence. Speaking of evidence, though, I kept thinking, “that’ll never hold up in court,” as the Major kept moving forward with his investigation. I mean, the old dude is finding what he believes to be evidence, but then he pockets the stuff and heads off to the authorities. Then he’s like, “here’s the faulty tools and their from so-in-so’s desk.” If I were the cops I’d be thinking, “Yeah old man, prove it.” I mean he pretty much contaminates every piece of evidence he finds!
Despite the major problems with the story, what makes the film enjoyable is some fun characters filling up this little one-factory town. The highlight is definitely the three old vets who are the Major’s gang of accomplices. Lucien Littlefield is especially fun as a Civil War vet named Eli. A scene where he uses his pipe as a gun to hold a security guard at bay is a real joy. There are a few other fun supporting characters, such as the local busybody Mrs. Hopkins (Maude Eburne). If only the villains were a bit more colorful. They’re pretty bland and we never really get a good impression of what they’re whole MO is. They’re un-american, though, that’s for sure.
Sabotage is ultimately a pleasant little B-flick. It’s got some major holes in the storytelling, but there’s still something irresistible about seeing these old codgers play detective. They ain’t doin’ the DA any favors with their investigative style, but hey, it’s just a movie.
Note: Sabotage was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray by Olive Films. Thanks to them for letting us take a look at the film.