Happy birthday Norman Lloyd! Born this day in 1914, Norman is probably the oldest living Hollywood personality. He began his career as a character actor in many important films including several of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest American movies, one of which is Saboteur. He turned to television in the 1950s-70s, producing several series, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” He has returned to acting, and earned screen credit at the age of 100 in Trainwreck.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur, Norman plays Fry, a mysterious man at the scene of a fatal explosion. Fry hands Barry (Robert Cummings) a fire extinguisher to put out what appears to be a manageable fire; his friend asks for the extinguisher so Barry passes it to him, not knowing that it was filled with gas. Fry disappears, leaving Barry to grieve the loss of his friend as the prime suspect in the death. The whole movie is Barry’s attempt to avoid the police and to find Fry.
Throughout his search, Barry has to rely on many people he comes in contact with, knowing that there is high risk involved. Everybody in the country knows his name and face from the case, so he has to quickly get people to believe him instead of the papers. That is certainly not an easy task. But even more difficult is his need to read every one of these people, to determine if they believe him or if they are playing some sort of a game to get him arrested.
The first two people he encounters are people who exhibit unusual amounts of grace. A blind man explains that without sight, he is able to see things that other people can’t, like innocence. Barry is only able to continue in search and secure his freedom as long as he receives the mercy and kindness extended to him.
Of course most of the people he comes in contact with are not like these two. If they believe him at all, it takes much more than a sixth sense to reach that point. The blind man’s niece, Pat (played by the wonderful Patricia Lane), is with Barry during most of his journey. Initially trying to release him to the cops, her journey to eventually believe him and join him in his pursuit of justice is one as thrilling as anything Hitchcock ever made. It is also a very spiritual journey, requiring her to recognize everything inside of her that leads her towards quick judgment and distrust of others (not just Barry as we find out early in the film). Learning to trust Barry also means trusting her uncle, and most important trusting that there is good in the world and that good can triumph over evil.
As a movie crafted entirely around a chase, Saboteur is extremely influential for the later TV series “The Fugitive” (which of course was adapted into an excellent film in 1993). Fry is very much like the one-armed man. We see him only twice in the movie, but both times Norman Lloyd is electrifying. The first time we see him, we are struck by his mysteriousness. The second time, we are convinced of his malevolence. Even though he is in the movie such a short time, Norman plays one of the great movie villains. Best of all, he was 28 at the time of the movie’s release, and he’s still making movies as he turns 103 today. Happy birthday Norman Lloyd.
Watch Saboteur: The film airs tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 8) on TCM at 9:15PM. It can also be currently seen its entirety here.