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Sabotage (1936)

Not Rated | | Thriller | 11 January 1937 (USA)
A Scotland Yard undercover detective is on the trail of a saboteur who is part of a plot to set off a bomb in London. But when the detective's cover is blown, the plot begins to unravel.


Alfred Hitchcock


Joseph Conrad (novel), Charles Bennett (screen play) | 4 more credits »

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Complete credited cast:
Sylvia Sidney ... Mrs. Verloc (as Sylvia Sydney)
Oskar Homolka ... Karl Anton Verloc (as Oscar Homolka)
Desmond Tester ... Stevie
John Loder ... Ted Spencer
Joyce Barbour Joyce Barbour ... Renee
Matthew Boulton ... Superintendent Talbot
S.J. Warmington ... Hollingshead
William Dewhurst ... The Professor


Mr. Verloc is part of a gang of foreign saboteurs operating out of London. He manages a small cinema with his wife and her teenage brother as a cover, but they know nothing of his secret. Scotland Yard assign an undercover detective to work at the shop next to the cinema in order to observe the gang. Written by Col Needham <col@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


...A Bomb Plot ...A Killing ...Justice




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

11 January 1937 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

I Married a Murderer See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Full Range Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Robert Donat was originally slated to play Ted Spencer, but a prolonged illness prevented him from playing the role. See more »


During lunch at Simpson's, a man's hat appears behind Mrs. Verloc between shots. See more »


[first lines]
Man in power plant: Sand.
2nd Man in power plant: Sabotage.
3rd Man in power plant: Wrecking.
4th Man in power plant: Deliberate.
2nd Man in power plant: What's at the back of it?
3rd Man in power plant: Who did it?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits are shown with a background of a dictionary page open to the definition of "Sabotage". See more »


Featured in Inglourious Basterds (2009) See more »


Love's Old Sweet Song (Just a Song At Twilight)
(1884) (uncredited)
Music by J.L. Molloy
Lyrics by G. Clifton Bingham
Sung a cappella by a man lighting candles
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Modern Cinema Began At 1:46
10 January 2006 | by slokesSee all my reviews

A boy, an old lady, and a puppy on a bus. What could possibly be a sweeter film scene? Well, that is unless you're Alfred Hitchcock and the film is "Sabotage," in which case you get a trifecta of quite a different sort.

Playing with the rules was Hitchcock's forte, but never again until "Psycho" would he do so with the cold brilliance on display here. Unlike "Psycho," which hasn't dated a month since its 1960 release, "Sabotage" doesn't for a moment feel like it was made any later than 1936, in part because of its fuzzy sound quality (maybe just the versions I've seen) and in part because it's a very static film.

That's not to say "Sabotage" isn't good. In fact, it's brilliant. Adapted from the Joseph Conrad novel "The Secret Agent" but markedly better both in terms of its linear treatment of the thin central story and its sharper, more measured ending, "Sabotage" introduces us to Mr. Verloc (Oskar Homolka), the owner of a London cinema who sidelines as a secret agent for a mysterious foreign power, "the people you and I will never catch" as one policeman tells another. After causing a power outage that produces laughter rather than the desired fear, Verloc is assigned a more deadly job, to cause an explosion in Piccadilly Circus, "the center of the world," as Verloc's controller calls it.

It's impossible to watch the film now without thinking of 9/11 or the London subway bombings, a world of murderous, anarchic terrorism Conrad's novel and Hitchcock's film anticipated without quite comprehending. The film seems to stumble on offering a coherent "why," perhaps because there isn't one, then or now. But echoing a central point in Conrad's novel, "Sabotage" shows the terrorists' greatest fear is not retribution but indifference. "London must not laugh" is the order given to Verloc.

As played by Homolka with sleepy nuance, Verloc isn't quite a villain, just a weak, lazy man of no moral fiber who objects at the thought of murder but decides to go through with it in order to be paid. Sgt. Spencer of Scotland Yard is hot on Verloc's trail, but he's not exactly a hero, a bit of a bumbler rather who fancies Verloc's wife. Mrs. Verloc, played by screen vet Sylvia Sidney (she was the case worker helping the Maitlands in the afterlife in "Beetle Juice" 52 years later) is the closest we have to a rooting interest, though her concern seems less with the husband or the policeman who woos her than her little brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester).

Hitchcock's direction offers a little of the comic relief more prominent in his other films, and some arresting visuals for their time, especially that of a fish tank which morphs into a London street under attack. There's a very involving scene where a devastated Mrs. Verloc is reduced to tearful laughter by a Disney cartoon. (Verloc's owning a cinema may be a comment on the deceptively transformative power of cinema, or a wink in the direction of his sideline activity in the novel, selling Edwardian porn.) Mostly "Sabotage" is a film that grabs you by the throat and never lets go, making its 80-minute running time feel like forever going by in an instant.

It all comes down to the scene on the bus. Hitchcock apparently believed it was the biggest mistake in his career. It may have killed enthusiasm for "Sabotage," but it made clear to filmgoers that all bets were off as far as this young director was concerned. From then on, cliffhangers would be invested with a certain added dread that would make their resolutions seem less pat, and the movie thriller would be that much more thrilling. It took guts to make a film like that.

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