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Tense, Atmospheric Thriller
Snow Leopard14 May 2001
"Sabotage" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's least known features, but it is part of a string of fine films he made during his last few years in England, and is well worth watching for any Hitchcock or thriller fan. The picture is based on a classic novel by the great Polish-English writer Joseph Conrad.

This is a tense, atmospheric thriller, without much humor. It is more like "Vertigo", "I Confess", or "The Birds" than "North By Northwest" or "The 39 Steps". Instead of humor, Hitchcock concentrates this time on carefully constructing the world of the Verlocs, the family at the center of the film. The setting, in a movie theater where the family works and lives, is an important part of the themes and questions explored in the film.

The characters are constantly walking in and out of the theater while movies are in progress, or discussing the movies being shown as they go about the main actions of the (actual) film. The obvious themes of appearance and reality parallel the lives of the Verloc family, and especially Mr. Verloc (Oskar Homolka) whom we know from the beginning to be a terrorist, albeit an amateurish one, and not the mild-mannered family man he appears to be. The settings of Verloc's meeting with his co-conspirators, an aquarium and a bird shop, are also carefully chosen to demonstrate the contrast between the everyday appearance of the terrorists and their actual agendas. Besides the obvious implication that such persons may be those we would not suspect, there is also the strong suggestion that these conspirators do not themselves realize the serious nature of the game they are playing. Certainly Verloc himself quickly realizes that he is in over his head, and he tries desperately to get out of the fearsome responsibilities he has accepted.

Hitchcock buffs will enjoy watching the film repeatedly to catch all of the carefully crafted detail, and to enjoy the trademark Hitchcock touches. There are two particularly riveting sequences. One occurs when Verloc sends his wife's young, unsuspecting brother on a dangerous errand, leading to a sequence of excruciating tension. Hitchcock later said he should have ended the sequence differently, and many viewers might agree, but what happens is in keeping with the themes and plot of the movie, and the suspense sequence is also masterfully done. Also well-known from "Sabotage" is the sequence when Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sidney) learns the truth about her husband's activities, and the awful consequences of his latest plot. There is first a touching sequence in the theater, when the Disney movie playing on the screen first provokes Mrs. Verloc to involuntary laughter, then to deepened sadness when it too closely parallels her own experience. Then there is a tense, famous scene at the dinner table, filmed as an absolutely masterful montage by Hitchcock.

These scenes, and the finely crafted atmosphere of "Sabotage", make it worthwhile despite a few small faults, and despite the possibility that many viewers will not be comfortable with some of the plot developments. Watch it at least once if you are a Hitchcock fan, or if you like spy stories or thrillers.
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A Great Sylvia Sidney Vehicle (before "Beetlejuice")
aimless-4611 February 2005
Like most Hitchcock films, "Sabotage" is a great thriller directed with a fluid, self-assured style. But given its thriller genre what makes "Sabotage" unique is that moments into the movie we know the identity of the saboteur, we know who is the undercover detective, and we know that the police have all but solved the case. So Hitchcock's suspense must come from somewhere else and in the meantime he must entertain us with character development. And that task falls to his heroine. Hitchcock had an uncanny ability to cast actresses who were a perfect fit (at that exact point of their career) to play a particular heroine. Fortunately he again makes the right choice and we are treated to a fine performance from Sylvia Sidney (imagine an expressive Sasha Cohen without ice skates).

The film is essentially a Sylvia Sidney vehicle as she plays a woman who slowly realizes that her husband is a monster. She is a young American woman who married an older European (nationality unknown) man who apparently showed kindness to her and her young brother Stevie (played by Desmond Tester) when they were down on their luck. They moved to London to run the Bijou, a struggling movie house.

Among the notable scenes is the meeting between Sidney's husband (played by Oskar Homolka) and a spy contact at the London aquarium; to the backdrop of a huge turtle swimming in an illuminated tank. The tank cross-dissolves into Piccadilly Circus as it is demolished in his imagination.

Another is late in the film when Sidney sits in the theater in numb shock, watching a Disney cartoon ( ( "Who Killed Cock Robin ?" )). There is not a word of dialogue but her eyes and expressions subtly convey an emotional cavalcade of stunned realization, immense sadness, and barely suppressed hysteria that will stay in your memory forever. It is a rare example of the visual power of film and an illustration of what acting for the camera is all about.

And perhaps most amazing is the long and unbearably suspenseful journey of young brother Stevie across London, unaware that he's carrying a ticking time bomb.
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The front, the screen, the back room
manuel-pestalozzi24 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
French intellectuals probably love Sabotage: Story and pace might not hold the interest of the general public for long, but this movie is a multi layered affair with a lot of stuff to analyze. I read Joseph Conrad's sadly prophetic novel about terrorism in our modern day world before I knew that a Hitchcock treatment existed, and I just admire how the master of suspense succeeded in adapting the story (written around the year 1900) to the conditions in "Hitchcockland". There is suspense, there are funny scenes, but Sabotage is, compared with The Man Who Knew Too Much or The 39 steps, a rather serious movie that investigates the dark sides of the condition of human nature in modern times. There are different particularities that I think are quite unique and worth a comment.


Certain parts of Sabotage seem to pay tribute to the silent era expressionist and avant garde heritage of Germany and the Soviet Union. The movie starts in an impressive, unforgettable way: First we see a dictionary, then Battersea Power Station with one smoking chimney in the moonlight, then a gaudily lit city street at night. The lights in the street go out; change to a piece of big machinery half in water, lit only by a flashlight; several hands excitedly fussing with the machinery, digging up a muddy substance from the water, rubbing the substance between the fingers. Then the first words of the movie are spoken by an anonymous voice: "Sand!". Then another voice "Sabotage!". Then a third voice: "Who did it?" With a quick succession of different scenes – partially accompanied with a nasty humming sound like from a generator - the viewer is brought right into the movie. The audience is now informed about the dark nature of the subject – terrorism - and the wanted atmosphere is firmly established.

The use of spaces or spatial sequences is extraordinary. They have a symbolic significance that in my opinion is uncommon in later Hitchcock movies. The main character, Mr. Verloc, operates a small, shoddy movie theatre, the Bijou. He lives, together with his young wife and her brother, in a small appartment behind the movie screen. Whoever wants to visit the Verlocs walks up to the ridiculously pompuous, brightly lit front of the Bijou, passes through the front into the dark, stuffy small screening room, walks towards the screen, passes it and is at the Verloc's door. Mr. Verloc, a twisted character without discernible ethnic or ethical roots, executes acts of sabotage or terrorism for whoever pays him. The sequence of light and darkness that lead from the outside to the "brain" that concocts acts of madness is repeatedly shown in the movie. A detective tries to squeeze himself into the space behind the screen in an attempt to spy, but there he is unprotected and spotted by the people in the appartment. At the end of the movie, Mrs. Verloc, fleeing from the appartment when she understands that Mr. Verloc caused her brother's death, gets stuck in the "dream zone" of the screening room. She stops and watches a sequence of a Disney animated picture, somehow re enacting her brother‘s carefree life and its brutal end. The movie in the movie makes her state of distress more acute. She turns back to the appartment and finally stabs Mr. Verloc to death. A similar spatial sequence as in the Bijou is shown in a pet shop. In its back room a bomb is prepared for Mr. Verloc by the owner, an equally miserable and twisted character. Again there is a "respectable" front, a middle zone with a surreal situation (many caged exotic animals), and a stuffy back room for a chaotic unconventional family of three (in this case father, daughter, granddaughter) where modern-day sciences are turned into a senseless destructive force. The meeting between Mr. Verloc and his anonymous employers (as in Conrad's novel, it is never explained who they are and in whose favor the acts of terrorism should be) takes place in the zoo, in a dark cavern with windows into different aquarium (I strongly suspect Orson Welles of having copied the set with few alterations for The Lady from Shanghai). The conspiracy thus takes places in a subterranean commando bunker (a predecessor of Ken Adam's war room) from which you do not see a clearly defined "battlefield" but just murky waters and strange, silent creatures moving through space in slow motion. In a short, dream like sequence the scared Mr. Verloc sees through one of the aquarium windows Piccadilly Circus distorted and destroyed by the bomb he is ordered to plant there.

In Sabotage the sets are very important. The character's lives are conditioned by their surroundings. They move little. There is not too much action and the viewers of the movie are required to watch carefully. Maybe this is Hitchcock at his most uncommercial ...
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Sabotage holds up much better than some of Hitchcock's later films
krorie3 November 2005
What an opening. The power goes off all over London as the camera gives the viewer a sweeping panorama of the situation, light, shadow, blackness, panning throughout the city with emphasis on historical sites. Then one word utterances from several different persons in charge of keeping the power up and running. This beginning grabs the audience's attention better than any other film this side of "The Letter" and Hitchcock's own "Rebecca." But unlike "The Letter" where the opening is the high point of the entire film, "Sabotage" keeps getting better and better. The opening is truly just the beginning of a cinema masterpiece. Hitchcock uses old film techniques such as cross cutting in novel ways. One of the best scenes takes place in a zoo aquarium where water creatures are compared with the human creature. Listen to the dialog between the two saboteurs as the camera zooms in on the sea turtles. Later the bomber thinks of the fish swimming in the tank and then sees motor cars filled with passengers speeding along the streets. An explosion. Suddenly the fish in the tank again flash through the bomber's head. To savor this splendid moment of cinematic brilliance, the viewer may need to zip back and watch and listen as the scene is repeated.

What a wonderful acting job Sylvia Sidney does. Hitchcock used all his influence and bargaining power to have Sidney play the part. Unfortunately Hitchcock and Sidney did not jell. Their personalities clashed. So the gifted actress refused to have anything else to do with the masterful director. Such a great loss for each.

The way Hitchcock handles the delicate situation involving the cute boy, Mrs. Verloc's (Sylvia Sidney)little brother, riding the bus with a time bomb in a package under one arm while petting a fluffy puppy with his free hand is necessary for what happens at the end of the film. For once, however, Hitchcock misread his movie patrons who were outraged. Never again would he make a similar mistake.

An interesting feature of this Hitchcock outing is a cinema owned by the bomber (Oskar Homolka) and his wife (Sidney) where clandestine meetings among the saboteurs occur. Several features are shown in the background from time to time during the film but one stands out, "Who Killed Cock Robin," a Disney short from 1935 featuring a parody of Mae West among others. Hitchcock skillfully blends the clip from "Cock Robin" into his story of "Sabotage." Mrs. Verloc deeply depressed and confused following her brother's death hears the laughter coming from the audience. She sits down and joins in with the gaiety. When the arrow is loosed and strikes poor Cock Robin, the laughter on her face changes to an expression of agony and terror. Reality replaces fantasy and make believe. Now she fully realizes what a monster her husband truly is, not the noble sensitive caring man of her dreams. One is reminded how a later director/writer Preston Sturges would use a similar technique with a Mickey Mouse cartoon in his classic "Sullivan's Travels."

There is also a clear message by Hitchcock on sabotage, today terrorism; those so-called martyrs for a cause are in reality misguided devils who end up killing the innocent and helpless instead of the ones their feeble minds believe to be the deceivers and exploiters of the human race.
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The best of Hitch's early British films...
Don-1024 March 1999
Most buffs and fans of Alfred Hitchcock point to 39 STEPS or LADY VANISHES as his best work before he hit Hollywood in 1940. SABOTAGE is really the first time we see a pure thriller, specifically a spy thriller, which became so commonplace throughout the master's career. The main character is an undercover agent, looking to break up a ring of saboteurs bent on destroying London. Hitch places the head villain within, what else, a cinema, something that adds to the already rich atmosphere. The film was also shot on location, an oddity for Hitch.

Check out the camera movements and use of shadows in regard to the villain (played by a creepy looking Oscar Homolka). They reveal a lot to us the viewer and lead us to hope for his wife to figure it all out. An ominous image of London falling is depicted from the point of view of Oscar. This is pretty basic stuff, but, considering how old the film is, it still packs a punch. The scene on the bus, where a young boy carries a film tin which may or may not carry a bomb is extremely suspenseful and well-done. We even see a British crowd in the movie theater watching a Disney flick (which is well noted in the opening credits).

1934's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH was an effective early thriller, better than the 1956 remake, however, this is the film to start with if studying Hitchcock's career. You may find yourself preferring some of his British films, like MAN WHO KNEW, to his work in Hollywood. SABOTAGE provides the goods for the first time.
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Poor Stevie
nycritic5 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
For reasons that are left unexplained -- and maybe it should be so -- Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka) is working for unknown forces by terrorizing London natives as he sets off bombs. His wife's brother Stevie is the patsy given these packages to be delivered once they reach their destination at a certain time. Until one delivery goes terribly wrong and causes the innocent Stevie his life.

It's the sequence that is Hitchcock's earliest depictions of what he describes as suspense. The boy, whom we have grown to like over the course of the film, is on his way to a location on a bus carrying the bomb inside a package. Hitchcock cuts between the package, the street, the Big Ben, over and over and over until the tension becomes so unbearable and is finally released in an explosion which kills the boy.

While Hitchcock in his interview with Truffaut would later state that putting the boy in this situation is something that he resented because the audience at that time reacted negatively at this, I think this is a mistake. Because there is another character, Mrs. Verloc (played by Sylvia Sidney), who will eventually come to realize what she has been slowly fearing all along -- that her husband is the person behind the acts of sabotage -- she has to lose a person close to her to take action.

In the climactic sequence which resembles a silent film, Mrs. Verloc brings murder and retribution home without a line of dialogue but only using her survival instincts and those sad, expressive eyes. Hitchcock shifts from her face, to Homolka's, to the food they are eating, to her holding the knife, until we cannot bear it anymore and in a moment of almost casual surprise, it happens. It's too bad Hitchcock and she did not work again; she would have made an excellent Hitchcock heroine.

The Director would explore the theme of the suspicious wife time and again on two other films. In the correctly titled SUSPICION, Joan Fontaine would be the wife who has to come to terms with the gnawing fact that her dashing husband's love may be killing her, and in DIAL M FOR MURDER would bring to focus what was implied in SUSPICION.
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Easily one of Hitchcock's greatest films
zetes16 March 2001
Ah, yet another Hitchcock movie that is less than famous but then turns out to be one of the best films ever made. Every Hitchcock film that I see just makes me want to the rest of his films.

Sabotage has a lot going for it. It is based on a novella by Joseph Conrad, the master writer who wrote Heart of Darkness (truth be told, that's the only novel of his that I've read the whole of, but I've been told that he has plenty of great novels besides that; I guess after Sabotage, I'm now obliged to read up). The story is excellent. Mix that with great characters played by great actors, and you've got yourself yet another Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece.

Maybe this film is not popular because it is atypical for Hitchcock. It contains tons of suspense, maybe more than any of his films besides Rear Window, especially in a sequence where he demonstrates his famous theory that a bomb that does not go off creates the suspense. No, this film is atypical because it lacks Hitchcock's masterful humor. This is usually taken as one of his trademarks, but I've seen several of his films that lack humor (or at least reduce it), and I find them just as good (I Confess, Rope, and The Birds). Instead, Sabotage may be the most emotionally affecting Hitchcock film, competing with the likes of Vertigo and Rebecca. It gives you characters to care about, especially Mrs. Verloc, played masterfully by Sylvia Sydney as a happy wife who discovers the hard way that her husband is a terrorist (don't worry, no spoilers here; we find this out in the first scene). John Loder plays Ted, a detective who falls in love with Mrs. Verloc, although she is clearly not willing, while undercover at a grocer next door. The best performance is Oskar Homolka's, who plays Mr. Verloc. Only Norman Bates is a more sympathetic villain than Mr. Verloc. We never do see why exactly he wants to sabotage things (and in this way, this movie is quite xenophobic), but we see that he does not wish to harm anyone, and that when he does he only does it through compulsion. He also cares greatly for his wife and her brother. Even at the end of the film, we understand why Mrs. Verloc wants nothing to do with Ted's advances. The film ends with an easy escape, but guilt remains heavy. 10/10
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MrBiddle6 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
What you'll find is signature Hitchcock touches. Such as the brilliant mobile framing, and how he lets the players use their eyes to tell the story in visual terms.

Watch how Mrs. Verlock's face is suddenly stricken when she sees the bird get killed in the cartoon movie right after the moments she tries to laugh her grief off.

Look at the beautiful graphic match of the turtle aquarium to Mr. Verlock's sick fantasy of what happens to some buildings. I also really liked the intense scene in the dinner table, that Hitch accentuates with his beautiful camera movement. And oh, that wicked angle when we see Mrs. Verlock right past the doorway, and in the F.G., the feet of the slain Mr. Verlock.

I really don't know how Hitch did that double-decker explosion. It was really clever as it was really quick. I hafta see this film again to figure out how they did that train blast.

People say this is an elaborately detailed thriller; I can see part of that --- you'll laugh when you watch the last scene where the police officers realize something they didn't earlier.

Best of all, SABOTAGE is only 75 minutes in runtime. Yes sir, better than a hundred or 110.

Retitled A Woman Alone in the U.S.

Grade A+

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A Suspenseful Thriller
Rainey-Dawn4 May 2016
Oskar Homolka is fantastic in this one as Adolf Verloc. Mr. Verloc seems to be a loving husband but there is something hidden from his wife's view - something that is beyond belief: Sabotage! The police are hot on his trail but they don't have they proof they need to arrest him it's Mr. Verloc's strange activity has the police suspicions aroused and following him, watching him like a hawk.

One of the best sequences in the film is when Mrs. Verloc's younger brother (played by Desmond Tester) is asked to deliver a package (unknowingly a bomb) for Adolf Verloc. Time is running out for "The bird sings at 1:45" while Mr. Verloc tries to smooth things over/plays innocent with the police superintendent.

This is definitely one of Hitchcock's finest films. A great crime thriller!

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Modern Cinema Began At 1:46
slokes10 January 2006
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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Good Hitchcock, but I miss Conrad's layered ironies
theowinthrop24 February 2005
"Sabotage" is one of a series of six films in the mid 1930s that firmly created the public image of Alfred Hitchcock as a major film director and artist. The others were "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934), "The Secret Agent", "The Thirty-Nine Steps", "Young and Innocent", and "The Lady Vanishes". The films caught attention in American (especially "The Thirty-Nine Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes"), and Hitchcock was invited to come to America by David Selznick, who would be his producer from 1939 onward.

The other comments on this film have pointed out some of the best moments, such as the explosion scene and the death of Verloc (Oskar Homolka). The film was quite well made, but the film had to be modernized for it's 1937 audiences. Although the foreign power that is behind Homolka's gang is never mentioned, a 1937 audience would have probably considered it was Nazi Germany (which was the suggested enemy in "The Lady Vanishes", and "The Thirty-Nine Steps". In the original story Verloc is acting for the government of Tsarist Russia, who has sent a high ranking official to London to tell Verloc to commit a terrorist act (to spur anti-Immigrant feelings in London). Verloc does not run a cinema (as in the movie - the novel came out in 1907), but a small store. However, he does sell contraceptive devices, which Conrad hints at but doesn't name. Verloc lives in a fool's paradise with his wife Winnie and her simple-minded brother. He thinks that his wife adores him, but she only tolerates him for the sake of giving her brother a home. When Verloc's plan destroys the brother, it destroys the household. Verloc's world is that of the foreign anarchists in London, none of whom are worthy of the respect their breast beating comments make them think they deserve. One of them is at total war with society, and wears an outfit that a modern suicide bomber would not find amiss (this character is kept in the film, but his impact is reduced by script changes). In the novel, when this "brave" anarchist goes out into the public wearing his booby-trapped coat, he suddenly sees the vast multitudes in the street and realizes that no matter how many he kills or maims thousands and millions will replace them - and nobody will replace him! Conrad's "The Secret Agent" was called the most completely ironic novel in English. If not it comes close, and is possibly his best novel ("Lord Jim" and "Nostromo" may be better). The twisted irony of the plot (for all the destruction nothing really changes) is first rate in the writing, but it does not translate too well in this film version. Watch the film for Hitchcock's touches and his directing of Homolka, Sylvia Sydney, and the rest. But read the novel by Conrad for the real treat.
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An update of Conrad's 'The Secret Agent' - filmed 'on location?'
nickjg6 August 2000
Warning: Spoilers
This film makes use of clever reference to locations, often at their darkest and most shadowy - Mr Verloc sabotages Battersea Power Station and brings darkness but his wife Winnie, (Sylvia Sydney) is always radiantly lit. In fact, Hitchcock the illusionist, created the 'locations' with giant photographs (stills exist of the shooting). His classic 'business' is perfectly in place - the contrast between the growing menace of Verloc and the 'English' humour is a characteristic which he refined here. An early cameo of Charles Hawtrey explaining the lives of fish at the aquarium while Verloc plots a bombing, the old lady arguing about a canary with the pet-shop owner who is also a homicidal bomber who keep ingredients in the larder! The latter is also henpecked by his gawky daughter (played by an unrecognisable Martita Hunt, not in Ms Havisham mode).Stevie, the heartbreakingly delightful brother is carrying the bomb to the Lord Mayor's show, while every device a crowd offers holds him up and builds the tension.

The scene where Winnie stabs Verloc (Oscar Homolka) is a triumph of understatement - it is banal evil: a struggle over the dinner table - Winnie stabs Verloc almost in one motion without effort, and without a clear purpose. Typically, having disposed of the villain, a trick leaves her free- the bomber strikes before the police can find Verloc's body. Hitchcock shies away from Conrad's bleak ending where Winnie is tricked out of the money and throws herself off a channel ferry. That would not be Hitch's style and this film is very much about style.
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Magnificent Hitchcock film with lots of tension and excitement
ma-cortes31 July 2006
The picture is an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad's novel about Verloc (Oscar Homolka) , an anarchist bomber and owns a theater who actually is an unknown secret agent for the foreign government in London pre-WWII . He is married to Sylvia (Sylvia Sidney )who works as a theater cashier and doesn't know her kindly husband is behind all it and has no idea his activities . An undercover police inspector (John Loder) surveys the marriage movements .

The film contains suspense , tense thriller , intrigue and usual Hitchcock touches . Hitch was a fervent anti-Nazi and similarly other films , he denounces the interior enemy , a spy-ring formed by English and German people . The movie has the expressionist German atmosphere , the suspense is continued and appears lurking and menacing in the theater , streets and during the bus scenes , when the boy carries the bomb . His habitual photographer Bernard Knowles makes an excellent camera-work with lights and shades . Enjoyable cartoon sequence belongs to ¨Who killed cock Robin ?¨ from Silly Symphony of Walt Disney . The movie has the Hitchcock's customary technicians , as Charles Friend (edition) , Louis Levy (musician), Bernard Knowles (cinematographer) , the screenwriter results to be Charles Bennett and being produced by Gaumont British with the great producer Michael Balcon . In spite of long time was released and a little bit dated , the film holds up pretty well . The motion picture was elaborately directed by the master of suspense . Rating : Above average . Essential and indispensable seeing for Hitch's moviegoers.
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Sabotage (1936)
shhimundercoverdamnit15 October 2007
Sabotage Based on Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel " The Secret Agent," the story concerns Detective Sergeant Ted Spenser ( John Lodger), who is disguised as a greengrocer in order to uncover the details of a plot to destroy London. Involved in the plot are a band of German and British spies who use a movie theatre and a pet shop as a ' front' to cover their activities. The owner of the theatre, Mr. Verloc ( Oscar Homolka), is involved in the plot, but his young wife ( Sylvia Sidney) and her younger brother Stevie ( Desmond Tester) are ignorant of it. Soon feeling that something is up and under pressure from his co-conspirators, Verloc sends Stevie to deliver something for him, only the young boy doesn't know he's delivering a time-bomb.

There are many standout scenes in this film. The first scene that comes to my mind, is in the beginning of the film: where London has just gone to total darkness. Several quick views of the power plants eventually lead us to the workmen who discover sand in the works. " Sabotage!" cries one. " Who did it?" The audience is given the answer immediately, as the face of Verloc, crisscrossed with the shadows, emerges to fill the screen. Classic Hitchcock! The second scene which stands out to me, is the entire sequence involving Stevie and his errand. In these scenes, Stevie is completely at the mercy of others, time, and the saboteurs plot. For example, the suspense Hitchcock builds on the bus with the conductor, who ironically warns Stevie, " Don't set fire to me or the other passengers." The last is the entire sequence in which Mrs. Verloc finds out what has just happened. This includes the Disney cartoon " Who killed Cock Robin?" and later the scene where Verloc confesses to his wife his part in the sabotage ( he does this against the background of the model boat which she and her brother had made) and the later final dinner scene, where not a word is spoken. This last part is so carefully arranged and so personal between the two, they are right in each others faces, silent.

Sabotage is really quite simply, a film rich in complexities of its moral ambiguities. Hitchcock examines really our thin veneer of security: the potential we have to sabotage our own lives and the lives of others. For example, the buying and selling of one?s own soul, using the disguise or ?cover? of a cinema or as a greengrocer. In the end, our own detective hero of the film faces his own moral dilemma, for his own recognition of his duty has begun to crumble.
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"If gangsters looked like gangsters…"
Steffi_P27 July 2009
In the mid-to-late 1930s Alfred Hitchcock held a unique position for a director. Since the successes of The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps, his destiny as a suspense filmmaker had been revealed not only to himself but also to his bosses at Gaumont. He was now only assigned material suitable to his area of expertise, and given a considerable amount of freedom to play around with the form. At the tail end of his British period, at a time when standard cinematic technique and narrative convention were well established, Hitchcock was effectively a researcher, of the kind that hadn't really been seen since the days of Griffith.

Sabotage is adapted from the Joseph Conrad novel Secret Agent, and it's worth taking a peek at a synopsis of the book to see the differences in the movie version, two of which are very significant. Firstly the novel is a kind of anti-heroic piece told largely from the point-of-view of the villainous Verloc. You couldn't have that in cinema in the 30s, so Verloc's opponents are beefed up into morally sound protagonists. However, it is still revealed from the outset that Verloc is the culprit, and we the audience are always kept aware of his doings even when the heroes are not. Dispensing with the Agatha Christie form of "whodunit" is essential to the Hitchcockian mode of suspense building. Revealing the identity and intentions of a killer keeps the audience constantly wondering when and how he will strike again.

The other important difference between the novel and film, is that Conrad states quite explicitly that Verloc and co. are anarchists, delving quite deeply into their ideology, as well as implying that they are Russians. Hitchcock's picture however makes no mention of the politics or nationality of the villains. They are simply generic foreign terrorists, existing to make the plot work. Imagine how much weaker this picture would be if we were asked to think about Verloc's motives. He has thick eyebrows, a sinister accent and he puts bombs on buses. What more do you need?

On a purely formalist level, Hitchcock's method is becoming increasingly streamlined. This is perhaps the earliest of his pictures which really feels like it was planned shot by shot before a single camera rolled. Of particular note is Hitch's staging of drama through reaction shots rather than expository dialogue. For example, Oskar Homolka's reaction to Stevie talking about gangsters, or pair of close-ups after John Loder is pulled through the air vent that tells us one of the gang members has recognised him. There are a few pointless technical touches, such as Homolka's vision of London in the fish tank glass, or Stevie's face popping up among the crowd of boys, but these are not as distracting as they could be in Hitch's earliest pictures.

Hitchcock rarely gave his actors any coaching, and relied upon a good professional cast to deliver the goods. In Sylvia Sydney and Oskar Homolka he has two of the best leads he had worked with so far, and their restrained naturalistic performances make their climactic scene together incredibly effective. The supporting cast are not bad either, although as usual with Hitchcock the comedy characters are the real standouts. Little-known stage veteran William Dewhurst, who plays the "professor", is a joy to watch, and it almost looks as if his scenes are about to turn into Monty Python sketches.

Much as I detest the phrase "experimental film", this was truly an experimental era for Hitchcock, or at least one in which his pictures were going through a process of natural selection. He realised afterwards he had made a huge mistake in one aspect of the main suspense sequence on the bus – I won't reveal it here as it's a major spoiler – and would ensure he never repeated the error. In spite of what was for him an embarrassing flaw, Sabotage is a very enjoyable and effective thriller, not among the greatest of his British period, but certainly worth watching.
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Early signs of Hitch Greatness.
jaywolfenstien29 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
In a perfect cinematic world, more suspense films would follow in the footsteps of the master. Sabotage is a testimony to Hitchcock's brilliance way back in the 1930s; it showed the promise of a director who would go on to make the classics Marnie, North by Northwest, and, of course, Psycho.

The beginning of the film didn't quite work to my liking; I felt Hitchcock went a bit far with the narrative, essentially spelling out details with unnecessary dialogue. 'What happened? Who did it? Let's show the villain!' Not necessary with the Hitchster's visuals. As the film progressed, however, this minor complaint found itself in isolation as the narration/dialogue improved and the Hitchcockian craftsmanship charmed me.

There's something about directors like Hitchcock, Welles, Schafner and Leone in their ability to show an image that's been used in countless other films and keep it fresh. Whether or not it's new is not an issue, it's all about the underlying technique that still keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. For example, we've all seen the moment in a film when one of the innocents is unknowingly describing the hero to the film's villain (whose usually occupied with some mundane activity), we get that moment of realization in the villain's eye as he glances up. I see the move coming a mile away, but I still find myself spellbound as Hitchcock delivers.

Indirect SPOILER - The moment in Sabotage that absolutely won me over came at the film's climax when a child is placed in danger. My moviegoer instinct (influenced by modern Hollywood trends) told me, 'Nothing will happen. There'll be some cheesy, ill-logical, and extremely improbable rescue.' Then moments later I remembered, 'Wait, this is Hitchcock . . . the kid really is in danger' and I was on the edge of my seat as the appointed detonation time approached.

The Master of Suspense delivered both a satisfying conclusion and setup, and from that point on the rest of the film was delight after delight as Mrs. Verloc tapped into her dark side upon realizing the truth behind the bomb and as the web of deception comes full circle and consumes all involved. I adore the scene where her and Mrs. Verloc are at the table and her body language telegraphs the thoughts passing through her mind, then Verloc simple walks around the table and how she abruptly snatches up the knife. Not much dialogue, and none is really needed. End SPOILER.

Sabotage pales next to the be-all/end-all suspense film, Psycho; however, Sabotage is a nice little precursor of what would come.
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excellent and underrated
MartinHafer17 August 2005
Most of Hitchcock's pre-Hollywood films have been pretty much ignored by American audiences with only a few exceptions (such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes). Of the several somewhat forgotten films is this dandy suspense film from 1936. What I particularly liked about the film was that it COULD have chosen the easy way out of a dilemma but chose for the grittier solution. This provided much greater realism which is so important when making a film about terrorists. In essence, there often is NOT a happy ending and these maniacs hurt a lot of innocent people.

Although the titles are similar, this should not be confused with Hitchcock's propaganda film The Saboteur from 1942. While a good film (and at times great), it is nowhere nearly as well-written and suffers from predictability--and Sabotage is NEVER predictable!
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An interesting, early effort from Hitchcock
bensonmum21 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Although it's probably evident if you've read some of the other things I've written, I'm not a writer. I sometimes have difficulty putting my thoughts on a given movie into words. For whatever reason, I'm having more problems writing about Sabotage than I usually do with a movie. There are a lot of things I enjoyed about the movie. The plot, the acting (especially Sylvia Sidney), and Hitchcock's ability to create tension worked for me. Like a lot of others, the "bomb on the bus" scene is the highlight of the movie. Hitchcock's genius at creating tension is as evident in this scene as any I've run across.

Even though I've rated the film a 7/10, there are problems I have with Sabotage that bothered me. I usually hate the term "dated" when discussing movies, but it's the best term I can come up with to describe my feeling toward Sabotage. It might be that I haven't seen enough British films from the 30s or maybe it was the poor transfer on the DVD I watched, but I couldn't shake the feeling. It's really a minor point and it won't deter me from my mission of watching and discovering more of Hitchcock's older, pre-Hollywood films.
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The film with the infamous 'bomb on bus' scene
The_Void15 March 2006
Sabotage clearly isn't Hitchcock's finest hour; but even though this is a 'lesser' Hitchcock film, the director still manages to inject the film with many of his trademarks that would go on to make classics out of films such as Psycho and North by Northwest. Hitchcock makes centrepieces out of several scenes; the best of which include a cross-fade with an aquarium and a London street, the striking opening sequence that sees London go dark; of course, the infamous scene on a bus - and my personal favourite and the crux of the film - the climatic scene that sees saboteur Karl Verloc (played to perfection by Oskar Homolka) try to pass the blame for his actions on to the Scotland Yard inspective who rumbled him. The plot sees cinema owner, the aforementioned Karl Verloc, get himself involved with terrorists. He manages the cinema along with his wife and her brother, and neither of them knows what's going on. The only third party who does know is Sgt. Ted Spencer; the Scotland Yard inspector employed to work a vegetable stall next door as a cover to investigate Mr Verloc.

This film is most famous for the sequence that sees young Desmond Tester carry a bomb onto a packed London bus. Audiences at the time were outraged by the climax to this scene; but I was impressed with it. By having the story run the way it should, Hitchcock showed early on the sort of flair that would ensure Psycho a place on 'best film' lists forty five years after its release. Hitchcock shows a willingness to take a risk, and while it may not have done him much good at the time - it's that sort of mentality that made him one of cinema's greats. As you'd expect, Hitchcock makes best use of the latest cinema techniques available at the time, but also harks back to the silent classics with several shots made to look like storyboards. It's obvious why Joseph Conrad's novel appealed to the great director, as the story itself is packed with suspense and Hitchcock always makes the best of it. The build up to the finale of the bus scene is beautifully serene, yet so daunting at the same time. On the whole; Sabotage represents a good example of early Hitchcock and comes highly recommended to his many fans.
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"London must not laugh on Saturday."
classicsoncall12 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Watching Alfred Hitchcock's early British films is a treat for this viewer, particularly in seeing the director's experimentation with themes that will become better known in his more famous American movies. "Sabotage" becomes an intriguing psychological drama even after the early revelation of the parts his key characters play in the story.

Particularly vile is Karl Anton Verloc (Oscar Homolka), a terrorist conspiring to plant bombs in association with an underground cadre. He uses a London cinema house as a front for his activities, while his antagonist, a Scotland Yard detective named Spencer (John Loder) attempts to get enough evidence to expose him. Verloc is married to an American woman (Sylvia Sidney) who is unaware of his activities.

With tense precision, Hitchcock visually reinforces the timing of Verloc's next bombing, even though the actual target is never mentioned by name. To carry out his mission, he enlists the services of his wife's young brother Stevie. As Stevie gets sidetracked by the distractions that would affect any teenager, he becomes the victim of Verloc's plot when the bomb detonates, destroying a London bus.

Mrs. Verloc's consolation comes in the form of revenge. The moment of retribution takes form almost immediately after she catches herself laughing at scenes of a Disney cartoon playing in the cinema - "Who killed Cock Robin?" indeed. In classic Hitchcock style, the director makes use of quick cuts to the saboteur, the wife serving dinner, plates of food, and of course, a knife. Needless to say, the knife finds it's mark, and with it, a cold satisfaction for the audience.

As in Hitchcock's first talking film, 1929's "Blackmail", the director uses deft sleight of hand to shift blame for Verloc's death to a surrogate. In the earlier film, a case could be made that the female killer was acting in self defense. Here, the event was achieved with spontaneous calculation. In both movies, the female lead was just on the edge of making a confession when abrupt dismissal by the authorities led them to a different conclusion about the murders.

The film left me curious about a couple of things, the main one being how audiences of the time reacted to the death of an innocent teenager. It seems to me that this would have been a particularly controversial subject for the time. On a very different note, I was left wondering whether the appearance of a rather large billboard directly behind the bombed bus was intentional or not; it was an ad for Coca Cola.

Though it's been stated otherwise by other reviewers on this site, the movie does have it's light moment even if only one, the Disney sequence notwithstanding. In an early scene at the pet shop, an old biddy tries to return a canary that doesn't sing. The shop owner has no trouble getting the bird to warble, implying that maybe it's the lady's fault. Strange though, that the shop would also have chickens and a rooster!
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One of Hitch's most Daring
dougdoepke25 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
It's Hitchcock at his grimmest. Just count the number of smiles. Also, the only happy person is unceremoniously killed half-way through! This is not a movie the director could have made in Hollywood—the Hayes office would never have allowed it. What with the killing of a central character, an innocent kid, plus an unpunished murder by another central character, there's no way the film could have originated stateside. Nonetheless, it's one of Hitch's most interesting since it raises a number of complex moral issues attaching to both guilt and innocence. Most saliently, should Mrs. Verloc (Sydney) be allowed to walk away from killing her husband unpunished, and if so, why?

Also, there's the issue of terrorism, not dealt with by many films of the time, but which seems very topical in our own day. Apparently, the terrorist killing of the boy (Tester) has been a controversial part of the film over the years, since it's so wrenching and goes against unwritten movie-making norms. Nonetheless, I think it's an important part of the story since it calls attention to the death of innocents caused by terrorist acts, whether the bombs are planted or come from the sky. I'm glad Hitch had the gumption to include it.

Anyway, it's not a movie to see if you're depressed. The lighting is dark, the mood somber, with a doleful Sydney, a sour-faced Homolka, and a conflicted Loder. Still, it's good to see so many Londoners going to the movies in those days, even if they do want their money back. In my view, it's one of Hitch's most daring movies, British or American.
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Those Magnificent Sad Eyes!
Syl19 September 2013
Sir Alfred Hitchcock adapted James Conrad's story, "The Secret Agent," into one of better known films. This film is short but not sweet. Sylvia Sidney is magnificent in the leading role as Mrs Verloc. Oscar Homolka plays her husband. They run the Bijou movie house in London, England before Word War II. Her husband is up to something but she doesn't know what. The red flag is raised when the theater loses power and patrons want refunds. Sidney was so young and her eyes could have earned an Academy Award nomination. Sidney supposedly had the saddest eyes in Hollywood but I disagree. Her eyes alone were worth watching. This film is a must for Hitchcock historians and fans alike.
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Superb but partly 'sabotaged' by misguided critics/fans views!
A_Kind_Of_CineMagic17 May 2009
This is a truly superb film by the all time greatest genius director. It is brilliant in almost every respect and has many of Hitchcock's astounding directorial touches. The aquarium scene where a fish tank becomes a vision of London in carnage is amazing. An explosion is incredibly filmed. Every scene of suspense is fantastically tense and awesomely well executed. Actors are directed to show huge thought and emotion through silent action and use of their body language or just their eyes. It is a marvellous film with great pace, timing and perfect judgement by the great director.

Sadly not everyone agrees on Hitchcock's judgement and one decision in the plot of this film caused consternation and criticism from viewers and critics which caused Hitchcock to say he made a mistake. I will not spoil this for viewers except to say that for me it massively increased my enjoyment of the film as it makes it more unusual, was right for the character development in the film and heightened emotional impact of the climactic scenes. Truffaut criticised Hitchcock's choice when he interviewed him and Hitch admitted he was 'wrong' but he made the choice at the time to keep true to the story and I feel he knew what he was doing. He was as usual totally correct in his direction and only declared he was wrong because it was an unpopular decision which was 'wrong' commercially and caused fans to question him.
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Packs a real punch
kinojunkie7 August 2007
Sabotage is an absolutely gripping film about the dual life of a terrorist who operates a movie house in London. Surprisingly dark and completely suspenseful as Hitchcock throws a few uncharacteristic curves our way. There's an oft-talked about scene that I won't describe due to the spoiler element and the fact that we see glimpses of the "bad guy's" life that allow us to empathize a little more with him than other Hitchock baddies. These rare shades of gray make for all the more engaging a film. Sylvia Sidney is wonderful in this - carrying herself with dignity and confidence in a way seldom seen in Hitchcock's women (she was also excellent in Lang's The Fury made around the same time). Joseph Conrad's novel "Secret Agent" on which this film is based is now on my reading list. I have a feeling we may get a better sense of Verloc's motivations in this form but their absence from Sabotage is no big loss. I'd recommend this film to anyone interested in seeing a good piece of cinema - not just Hitchcock fans.
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Strange things happening at the Bijou
jotix1002 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Joseph Conrad's novella, "The Secret Agent", served as the basis of Alfred Hitchcock's "Sabotage", during his British period. Since Mr. Hitchcock had already directed another English film, "Secret Agent", the title was changed to "Sabotage", not to be confused with "Saboteur", which the director made in America in 1942, which is not a remake.

The achievement of this film is tremendous, even when the viewer knows from the start who the evil character is. Mr. Hitchcock pulled it off in surprising, and simple ways, that paid off handsomely in this thriller, that in spite of having been made more than 74 years ago, still merits a view by fans of the director.

Mr. Hitchcock knew how to keep the suspense, as he proved here. The viewer is kept at the edge of his seat as one watches Stevie, the young boy going on to deliver the bomb, that unknown to him, his brother-in-law thought would surely go to its intended target. Because of the parade, and not being able to cross the street by the police barricade, he has no other way to get to Picadilly by taking the bus as time gets closer to the deadline of 1.45pm.

The other fantastic sequence involves the killing of Verloc. It is done without any sound, practically, yet, the impact it creates in our minds is nothing short of shocking because, basically, Sylvia Verloc, cannot believe the monster she has married, could be the one responsible for the death of her own brother. The ironic twist at the end comes unexpectedly at the end without even a hint of what is going to happen to the Bijou when all the evil doer is trapped inside the apartment trying to retrieve the bird cages.

Sylvia Sidney made a wonderful Mrs. Verloc. She is not the typical blond the director favored, but she brought a great presence to the film. Oskar Homolka underplayed his Verloc to an amazing effect. He is menacing without doing much, which goes to show what good actor he was. John Loder is seen as Ted, the undercover agent assigned to watch what was going on at the theater next door. Diamond Tester added a touch of innocence to the action; we all know he is a good kid who did not deserve his tragic end.

"Sabotage" is vintage Hitchcock that must be seen by serious fans.
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