Written by: Charles Bennett
Starring: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, John Loder, Joyce Barbour, Matthew Boulton
Unfortunate events serve as the lifeblood of many films as they can take harrowing moments and utilize them to tell a good story. Heck, there’s a whole genre of disaster flicks existing to capitalize on these things, but it never hurts to go back to one of the trailblazing moments in Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage. A film utilizing some incredible tension in displaying something never seen before during its time and still contains the same staying power.
Following an attempted sabotage of the London electrical grid, a group of terrorists ask for the assistance of movie theater owner, Mr. Verloc (Oskar Homolka). With the next plot of placing explosives in an integral part of London to make a statement, Mr. Verloc and his crew begin to grow antsy as Scotland Yard sniffs around their operation.
Of the many things to enjoy in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest works, Sabotage, its most defining element comes from the central explosion occurring in the film. Not only important for what it depicted as a terrorist attack but also in displaying a child dying because of it. Something incredibly taboo at the time but it certainly left its mark in the history of cinema and the genuine quality this film has to offer as it brings more than just this riveting and sad scene.
In a time when he was truly finding his groove following Secret Agent and The 39 Steps, Hitchcock crafts something so tense on multiple levels from the espionage to the danger involved with the explosives happening in the feature. The famous scene as indicated earlier where the explosion occurs truly serves as the main highlight of the film as the camera continually pans to clocks showing the proximity to the time when the bomb will go off. Considering the individuals on the bus as the time draws nearer makes it nearly impossible to watch knowing exactly what will happen. A definitive sequence and one that certainly stands out amongst the entirety of Hitchcock’s filmography.
We also have the Scotland Yard versus this terrorist group occurring around everything allowing the mystery of this organization to build and understanding of all of the moving parts involved. You see much of the film through the eyes of Mr. Verloc as he deals with the paranoia of potentially being figured out as well as reckoning with the impact of his actions following the explosion occurring. The film manages to keep you on your toes throughout as the true motivations of Mr. Verloc and his group never receive pure clarity but their actions surely indicate something quite heinous. Then you receive the perspectives of Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sidney) blissfully unaware of everything happening with her husband as well as the undercover agent Ted (John Loder). They have to attempt to figure out everything happening around them in this circumstance with Ted focusing throughout and on Mrs. Verloc following the horrific explosion taking place.
As the lines get drawn clearly between the good and bad guys of this feature, it delightfully operates with some gray area in the actions taken by these characters. It allows for moments where deception would benefit someone and opportunities arise and present themselves and it comes down to whether or not they decide to take it. Something allowing this feature to stand out amongst other more wholesome and straightforward films existing during that time. Whether it be from murder or other conspiratorial acts, these characters must make some compromising decisions and the way they go says plenty about their character and morals.
Filled with many technically impressive moments, Sabotage stands as one of the better films of Alfred Hitchcock’s run in the 1930s as he honed in on using sound in talkies. It works astoundingly well in this picture as he injects his trademark story beats making for a genuinely suspenseful film about some very serious events. Certainly, one to appreciate in all of its glory and just how messy things get and it allows for these characters to show their true selves in divulging exactly how they react to a situation like this one. It also discusses what would happen in regard to refunds if the power goes to a movie theater, which is something I never thought about.