Well, well, well. It’s my old friend The Legends Of Horror box set or, as I like to consider it, “The mass collection of movies Hitchcock made before he came to Hollywood”. So once again, I get to watch a Hitchcock movie that I have never seen before, but I have heard of this one. This movie came up during a conversation I had with a co-worker, who is a big fan of classic movies, and when we got on the subject of Hitchcock movies, he recommended I watch this one if I ever got the chance. So I let’s see if the recommendation pans out as I watch today’s movie, Sabotage (1936).
The plot: In 1930’s London, the power suddenly goes out and panic grips the city, When workers at the power plant find sand in one of the boilers, they realize that it was deliberately sabotaged and wonder who did it, as a man is shown walking away from the power plant. At a downtown cinema, the customers are upset and demanding their money back and Mrs. Verloc, who is working in the ticket booth, wishes her husband was there to deal with them. Meanwhile, Karl Verloc, who was the man leaving the power plant, sneaks upstairs into the living quarters of the cinema and after cleaning up, lays down in bed and pretends to be asleep. When his wife comes upstairs, she is surprised to see him there, having thought he was gone, and asks what to do about the customers. Verloc tells her to go ahead and give them their money back, saying he has some money coming in to cover the loss. When Mrs. Verloc returns downstairs, she sees Ted Spencer, a helper at the greengrocer next to the cinema, telling the crowd that due to the power loss being outside the cinema’s control, the cinema did not have to refund their money. Mrs. Verloc argues with Ted about what he is doing and tells the crowd that she will refund their money but as the crowd heads to the ticket booth, the power suddenly comes back on and the crowd heads inside, with Mrs. Verloc thanking Ted for his help before returning to the ticket booth. Later that night, Mrs. Verloc is working on getting dinner ready and sends her younger brother Stevie to the grocer to get some lettuce. Ted comes back with Stevie and warmly greets Mrs. Verloc, then comments to Verloc about seeing him return during the bloackout but Verloc tells Ted he was mistaken and that he never left. After his shift is over, Ted takes a cab to Scotland Yard, where it is revealed that he is an undercover officer investigating Verloc, as they believe he is somehow involved in a plot of attacks against the city. His supervisor wonders if Mrs. Verloc is working with Verloc or merely unaware of his actions and recommends Ted get closer to her to find out. The next day, Ted talks with Verloc for a little bit as he leaves the cinema and then watches as Verloc catches a bus and Ted signals his assistant, Hollingshead, to follow him. Verloc heads to the zoo and meets his contact, who is disappointed that the papers are mocking the power loss and wants Verloc to place some “fireworks” at the Piccadilly London Underground station, though Verloc is uncomfortable doing something that can result in a loss of life. Meanwhile, Mrs. Verloc and Stevie are in town and Ted “runs into” them and invites them to join him for lunch, during which he speaks with Mrs. Verloc but she has no clue that her husband might be up to something. Later, Ted returns to Scotland Yard and yells his superior that he believes Mrs. Verloc is innocent and his superior tells him what Hollingshead discovered. Meanwhile, Verloc heads to a pet store and meets with the owner, who works as a bomb maker for the terrorist group, and is given a time bomb disguised as a bird cage and told to make sure to place at the station at noon on Saturday. As he is getting ready to leave the store, he sees a police officer walking by and worries about them investigating him or raiding the store and the store owner comments that it would be a bad idea if they did. The next day, Ted notices several men going to meet with Verloc and he buys a ticket into the cinema to see if he can learn what they are meeting about. Running into Stevie, Ted is shown a window behind the movie screen that opens into their living room and Ted climbs up and starts listening into the meeting. As the meeting goes on, one of the terrorists notices Ted’s hand propping open the window and he quickly grabs it and drags Ted inside the room. Ted and Stevie quickly apologize for the intrusion and leaves but one of the terrorists recognizes Ted as working for Scotland Yard and after Ted leaves, he informs Verloc and the others. The terrorists decide to cancel the planned attack and scatter and after they all leave, Verloc heads to the ticket booth to speak with his wife. He asks her if Ted had asked questions about him and when she asks why, he says that Ted was spying on the building. Verloc heads to the grocers and asks the owner about Ted and the owner confirms that Ted works for Scotland Yard but he figured that they thought the cinema was showing “funny pictures.” The next day, Verloc tries calling the pet store owner to take back the bomb but learns that he had left for the day. When Ted shows up with Stevie, Mrs. Verloc is cold towards him and he apologizes for doing his job, then tells her what they suspect about Verloc. Verloc has taken the bomb out of the cage and wraps it but when he sees Ted talking to Mrs. Verloc, he asks Stevie to take the package to the station for him, saying it is some film canisters that need to be delivered to Piccadilly Circus before 1:45. Stevie makes his way to Piccadilly Circus but ends up delayed by a salesman, who uses him for a demonstration, and The Lord Mayor’s procession. When the parade is over, Stevie manages to convince a bus operator to let him onto the bus, even though it is illegal to carry film canisters on a public vehicle as they are flammable. As the bus makes it’s way through the city, Stevie keeps track of the time and when it is 1:45, the bomb goes off, killing everyone in the bus. Ted receives word of the explosion as he is finishing talking with the Verlocs and heads to the crime scene. As he looks around, he notices a film tin and realizes it is the one that Stevie was carrying. As the papers report on the explosion, Mrs. Verloc is worried about Stevie but when she grabs a paper and sees the article about the film tin, she faints in front of the cinema, and when she is revived, she goes to see Verloc. Verloc says he didn’t mean for Stevie to be harmed and says that if anyone is to blame, it is Ted, as he would have delivered the bomb himself if Ted hadn’t of been there questioning him. Mrs. Verloc is silent as Verloc tells her to pull herself together and later that day, as they are eating, she ends up stabbing him with a knife then, in a state of shock over Stevie’s death and her killing Verloc, she sits down motionless in a chair. Ted shows up and offers his condolences for Stevie’s death and says he has to arrest Verloc. When he discovers his body, he asks what happened and Mrs. Verloc tells him that he killed Stevie so she stabbed him. She plans on going to the police to turn herself in and Ted follows after her to try and stop her, saying he will do anything to protect her. Meanwhile, the bomb maker’s wife chastises him for using the bird cage to deliver the bomb to Verloc and she has him go get the cage back so they aren’t incriminated. As he heads to the cinema, he is followed by Hollingshead, who radios in his report and is told to head to the cinema and the chief inspector is on his way to meet them. Mrs. Verloc get’s upset and Ted comforts her and they end up kissing, then heading back to the cinema. As they near the cinema, they see the police arriving and Mrs. Verloc heads towards the Chief Inspector to tell him that she killed her husband but before she can, he is called away to oversee the raid. Meanwhile, the bomb maker makes it inside the residence but sees Verloc’s body and the police closing in. When the police knock on the door, he tells them he has a bomb and they, believing it is Verloc talking, quickly rush to clear the audience out of the theater before he can detonate it. The Chief Inspector returns to talk with Mrs. Verloc and ask if she can talk with her husband but she tells him that he is dead, just as the bomb goes off, obscuring all evidence that Verloc was stabbed. The Chief Inspector tells Ted to help Mrs. Verloc and take her away from there but as they leave, he tries to remember if Mrs. Verloc had said her husband was dead before or after the explosion occurred.
Sabotage (1936) met with unanimous praise from modern critics, holding a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, the critics all seemed to feel like this was one of Hitchcock’s best thrillers before he came to Hollywood. While the hostile powers behind the bombings was never actually named, many people feel like it was Nazi Germany, due to the time that the film was made. While the movie was based on the novel “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad, Hitchcock changed the title for his film, as he already had another movie coming out that same year titled The Secret Agent, though it was based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham.
While I don’t think it was as good as I was led to believe, this is still an incredibly good movie and really showcased Hitchcock’s talent for bringing out the tension in films. The acting was pretty good, with Sylvia Sidney (Mrs. Verloc), Oskar Holmaka (Verloc), and John Loder (Ted) doing great jobs in their roles. The story was pretty good, with my only real problem being that they didn’t really seem to explain the purpose behind the bombs. Yes, I know it was supposed to scare the British people but I meant the meaning besides the obvious one; the actual plan of which the bombs were only one step. Of course, they could have actually explained it and I just missed it but I honestly don’t recall them doing so. Hitchcock did a great job of using the tension in this movie to set the tone, especially in the final scenes of the movie. The scene with Stevie getting on the bus, and it driving by the various clocks as the time got closer to 1:45 was incredibly suspenseful, as you know what is going to happen but you keep hoping that something happens that keeps Stevie from being killed on that bus. The same kind of holds true when Mrs. Verloc kills her husband, as you feel like she is going to just snap but when she finally does, there isn’t a frantic reaction or anything as she actually seems pretty calm, though sudden, when she actually stabs Verloc. Definitely a movie worth watching, regardless on if you are a Hitchcock fan or not.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5