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  Sabotage I Know You Planned It
Year: 1936
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, John Loder, Desmond Tester, Joyce Barbour, Matthew Boulton, S.J. Warmington, William Dewhurst, Peter Bull, Martita Hunt, Torin Thatcher, Aubrey Mather, Austin Trevor, Charles Hawtrey
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The lights go out in London tonight, causing mild chaos as any other power cut would, but most citizens are amused by the circumstances, muddling through with candles and what torches there are until the electricity is back up and running. Yet at the power station, it is discovered there has been foul play as there is sand in the machinery - there is a saboteur at loose in the capital, possibly more than one, but luckily the authorities are on to them. The man doing their dirty work for them is Carl Verloc (Oskar Homolka) who pretends to have been sleeping through the outage in his back room flat behind the cinema he runs, but it is his wife (Sylvia Sidney) who suffers...

Director Alfred Hitchcock evidently had mixed feelings about Sabotage, mainly for the inclusion of one sequence that he would tell any interviewer who inquired about it that it was a "grave error". It was in the book The Secret Agent, a Joseph Conrad bestseller, that this was based on, but given Hitchcock altered quite a bit of the detail in transition from page to screen, the scene in question could be an instance of needing more attention to follow the rules of the suspense he stuck to so faithfully; he never tried anything like this again. Since it depicts an act of terrorism on a London bus, it can make modern audiences uncomfortable as well, especially in light of that very thing occurring around seventy years later.

So if the theme of terrorism sadly never went out of fashion, does this help the film play better now than it did back then? Certainly there were many grumbles about audiences feeling betrayed by that twist on the bus at the time, but now when the edgier material tends to be praised for its supposed bravery Hitch tends to be praised for his audacity, though he did make better films than this. That's not to say it was a failure, as the overall impression is one of a young director giddy with the possibilities of the medium as the language of cinema was advancing apace and he was keen to be at the forefront of that pioneering spirit, so every minute or two there will be a tricksy camera move, or ingenious set-up, all designed to keep the viewer engaged.

That ingenuity may have been more fruitfully employed in his other movies, and the availability of Sabotage being mostly relegated to poor quality public domain copies couldn't have helped its reputation, but now restored versions are doing the rounds it's possible to see it as its creator intended, and it comes across as the work of a director more interested in technique than the emotional life of the characters, which he more or less left to the actors. Sylvia Sidney was here in her accustomed role as the long-suffering lady, looking remarkably like a nineteen-thirties Amanda Seyfried, and so finely tuned was her anguish that you can well imagine her character will never get over the trauma she has been subjected to. Nevertheless, Hitchcock seemed more intrigued by other cast members.

Oskar Homolka was, like Sidney, an imported star though he had fled the trouble brewing the Continent and stayed in Britain for the rest of his life, a familiar face on film and television for all that time. This was a rare opportunity for him to secure a leading role, or as close as he would get, and his uneasy otherness here contributed substantially to the mood of something very much amiss in London if there are individuals banding together to cause mayhem. Not that we ever find out what their motives are, we have to assume they have a purpose for destabilising the nation and the film leaves it at that, crafting the paranoia that the most mundane looking folks and locations could be concealing the most murderous of intentions and consequences. Note how the climax of the story takes place in the Verlocs' cinema as undercover agent John Loder (over-cheerful, he was not the first choice) tries to foil another atrocity: contemporary moviegoers were expressly invited to feel fearful that something terrible could happen to them even at a night out at the pictures. Note also the Disney cartoon.

[Network's Blu-ray looks positively spiffing for a film of this vintage, and includes an introduction and a guide to the locations with Robert Powell as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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