Director: Alfred Hitchcock
based on Joseph Conrad’s novel THE SECRET AGENT
Cinematography: Bernard Knowles
A Hitchcock thriller made in his UK years, SABOTAGE opens with its own definition in a dictionary, but there is little to be said apropos of the motivation behind the anarchists. It is an usual London night, all the razzle-dazzle is in full bloom, suddenly a blackout causes some commotion on the street and in the centre stage there is Bijou cinema, where patrons are baying for refund of their tickets, at the same time, its owner Mr. Verloc (Homolka) furtively sneaks back to his apartment upstairs, and pretends that he has never gone out when his wife (Sidney) surprisingly finds him on the bed.
So it seems that this time Mr. Hitchcock doesn’t play either the whodunit or the why-do-it card and clocking in a condensed 76-minute, the film even waive the possibility of a McGuffin to compel audience into the puzzle. Admittedly, there is no puzzle at all, Mr. Verloc is the said saboteur, whose blackout sabotage doesn’t quite hit the mark (even being pilloried by the media) and he is tasked to up the antes, it doesn’t take much persuasion for him to forgo his no-casualties-causing vow to collude with a professor (Dewhurst) who is excel at making “fireworks”. In a straightforward manner, the story also sidetracks in the incipient attractions between Ms. Verloc and Ted (Loder), who works in the greengrocery next to the cinema, but his real identity is an undercover sergeant of Scotland Yard, and secretly stakes out Mr. Verloc.
Ms. Verloc has no inking of her hubby’s insidious deal, time and again she tells Ted that Mr. Verloc has the most kind-hearted soul she has ever met, which is a farcically self-defeating statement because whoever has eyes can palpably detect something amiss in Oskar Homolka’s hammy affectation with all those mannered scowls and insincere oratory, one might seriously wonder how dumb a woman could be if she fails to sense that from the man she shares a bed every night, that’s a disservice to Hitchcock’s heroine, beautiful but dumb, yet, she still deserves a miracle in the end.
Then there is that infamous “boy with a bomb” set piece, the story is a no-brainer, but the suspense never goes to seed under Hitchcock’s rein. One must admit it is a left-field coup-de-théâtre (through a string of heightened montages) a first-time spectator barely can see it coming, Mr. Hitchcock really dares to corroborate that nothing is impossible on the silver screen, although in retrospect this only materializes as a flash in the pan because when he veers into the Hollywood thoroughfare, he will be inured to adhere to a more morally rigorous precept. A minor Hitchcock film can still be engaging, only its aftertaste tends to be a shade astringent.