"Sabotage" reminds us of Hitchcock's melancholy tendencies and his fierce skill as a director. It's one of his more mature works, surprisingly coming near the beginning of his career. There is no need for odd romance moments, the ones that are seen on screen are purposely fake and full of lies. Conflicting emotions, insanity, death, and madness—these are featured in "Sabotage" which is truly one of Hitchcock's finest works.
The movie begins with a definition of the word sabotage...according to the movie it means an act of destruction or violence intended to do harm or cause a riotous reaction. Then the movie begins with a blackout. London's power fails at night and chaos starts to ensue. Choosing to shoot in moonlit like alleyways and street corners, "Sabotage" feels very much like Fritz Lang's "M". You can feel the community as a whole in the beginning scene and that is what rings true of "M". That, and the fact, that there is an act of sabotage. Instead of child-killing, someone has destroyed a piece of equipment with sand. We see the man in the darkened alleys and unlike "M", we are allowed to see his face.
He stalks off into the night.
We then cut to Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sidney) standing outside a movie theater. She works there with her husband and her younger brother. The people are demanding a refund since the power has failed. The cinema provides a service, one that failed half-way through. She struggles with the growing throng of moody people.
The man who we know by the music and the shadows to be the villain walks into the back of the theater where there is an apartment. He washes his hands in the sink and the sand get whisked away. Then he climbs into bed and pretends to be sleeping. He is the husband of Mrs. Verdoc.
"Sabotage" is ahead of its contemporaries by miles because of who the hero is and who the villain is. Hitchcock likes to use suave men as his protagonists, but here we have a unsuspecting housewife. She is the man's ideal woman—she cuts the food, massages the feet, and caters diner to her husband's whims.
What "Sabotage" is implying is that your loved one could be a criminal without you knowing about it. I was reminded of a bizarre story I heard on the radio where a woman found out that her boyfriend was planning on cooking and eating her. Reality shows are devoted to the idea of marrying someone who turns out to be a serial killer—"Sabotage" really showcases this paranoia well...and it's only the 30s.
Every housewife better look out because your husband could be evil...possibly one of the scariest and most provocative messages that could have been projected at the time of the movie's release.
The police aren't a stupid force in "Sabotage", which is a relief. They are ahead of the bad guys for most of the film, but they just need to catch them in the act.
Knowledge passes quickly, but there is no context...thus the characters don't know how to react. Context slowly comes and then the suspense appears. You can see how "Sabotage" influenced the modern suspense movie, it has a great sense of time. It wouldn't be the only film that Hitchcock would showcase his storytelling abilities while watching the clock..."Rope" is another supreme example.
The fade-ins seem to have prompted the same treatment in "The Shining"...there is always a darker message in the underlying image.
But more than slight influences on modern movies, "Sabotage" proves that it predated the modern horror film by decades. The lone female survivor is a common character in suspense and horror movies for a long time. "Alien" seems like a pristine example of this. But it was done first in "Sabotage"...not to the extent of the movies that would follow it, but still, you have to applaud their ingenuity.
"Sabotage" has a sense of loss that I haven't seen in a lot of other Hitchcock movies, and that is the real reason that it is a great film.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones