Sabotage (1936)

Genres - Thriller, Spy Film  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Thriller  |   Release Date - Dec 2, 1936 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 76 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bob Mastrangelo

Alfred Hitchcock relished in playing off of his audience's suspicions, and this early suspense film accomplishes just that. Made when Europe was on the verge of war, Sabotage focuses on Mr. Verloc, the incarnation of the heavily accented neighbor who may not be as benign as he seems. This xenophobic approach works to the film's advantage, as the sight of Verloc and his shadowy associates plotting the destruction of London surely must have grabbed English audiences in 1936. Hitchcock's fascination with espionage and crime is evident, as always, especially in the scene where Verloc meets his contact in the aquarium. Another favorite Hitchcock element present is having a wife slowly come to distrust and fear her husband. Sylvia Sidney plays this transformation beautifully. In the early scenes she is warm and friendly, but as the film progresses, she begins to tighten up, and in the final scenes, her hatred toward Verloc is utterly convincing. As for Oscar Homolka, from the start it's obvious he's up to something, but he is convincing as a small cog in a much larger wheel, a pathetic man who is overwhelmed by the pressures imposed upon him. But the centerpiece of the film is the nerve-racking journey of Mrs. Verloc's younger brother Steve, as he travels through London unaware that the reel can he carries contains a bomb. The bomb, of course, is set to a timer, and each delay adds increasing tension as the hour of detonation approaches. The sequence is pure Hitchcock, as there is nothing more suspenseful than to see an innocent in danger. Sabotage may be a couple of notches below The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, but it is still classic Hitchcock.