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Other/Miscellaneous => The CEWB Movie Club => Topic started by: Matt on October 06, 2018, 02:24:06 PM

Title: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 06, 2018, 02:24:06 PM
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This is the discussion thread for Sabotage (aka The Woman Alone). Discuss anything about the film that you'd like to!
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 07, 2018, 10:18:49 AM
Oh boy -- I wanted to love this, but I just didn't. The sound quality was so bad I needed to watch it with subtitles (I read that the copyright holder failed to renew their copyright and it fell into public domain and now anyone at all can record and sell this movie so it's often not a good print or poor sound quality).  There was one scene that I really liked, and it surprised me -- but I don't want to post spoilers until others have seen it, so I'll discuss that later.

I didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it. I didn't feel it was one of Hitchcock's best, but it was still okay, and a decent film from the 30's.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Christopher on October 08, 2018, 06:50:19 AM
This is the only one on our list that I haven't seen before. But I do have it in a cheap set, which probably means the quality won't be the best.

I think The Woman Alone is a more interesting title than Sabotage.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: AKA23 on October 09, 2018, 11:53:29 AM
I tried to watch this yesterday, and I couldn't get through it. It didn't hold my interest at all. I watched it for about a half an hour, which given the short runtime, was almost half the movie, and it wasn't immediately clear to me what the plot of the movie even was or who the main characters were that I was supposed to be caring about. Very disappointing.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 09, 2018, 06:24:42 PM
I haven't re-watched it yet, but I know it has a classic Hitchcock suspense scene, which ends differently from what audiences probably expected.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 09, 2018, 06:57:09 PM
I haven't re-watched it yet, but I know it has a classic Hitchcock suspense scene, which ends differently from what audiences probably expected.

Yes, that is the best scene and the one I was mentioning above that I wanted to avoid spoiling... at least for a little longer while we let everyone have time to watch.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 09, 2018, 07:00:55 PM
Well, I hope what I said was vague enough not to be a spoiler! (If you don't think so, we can delete these three posts.)
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 09, 2018, 07:02:00 PM
Well, I hope what I said was vague enough not to be a spoiler! (If you don't think so, we can delete these three posts.)

No, not at all. And we don't have a lot of people participating, so we can spoil it soon anyway!
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: The Schofield Kid on October 09, 2018, 07:10:00 PM
In that video of Hitchcock on the Dick Cavett show, that’s the one scene Hitchcock said of all his movies he would have done differently.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 10, 2018, 09:01:50 AM

"The Woman Alone" doesn't really fit the film, though. Mrs. Verlock was never alone -- she had her husband and her co-workers at the theater, and then the very interested Detective Spencer. I think Sabotage is a fine name, but can be confusing since Hitch released Saboteur a handful of years later (which I think is a much better film).


I'm going to spoil this movie -- so if you haven't seen it, don't read the rest of this post. It's impossible to have a film discussion and not discuss "the scene".


SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS...
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SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS...



I once read somewhere that one thing you don't do in films is kill an innocent child or a dog. Hitchcock takes out two with one blast. I did NOT see it coming. I really thought it was a big build-up, but the bomb wouldn't go off, or something would intervene to prevent it, or at the very least that the boy would deliver it and be safely away when it blew. I especially thought it wasn't going to go off when they showed the clock tick one minute past the scheduled time. You just don't see this happening in films, and it was so unexpected, even after all that build-up, that it was the highlight of the movie for me. I did read that Hitch said it was the one scene he'd do over again (under public scrutiny), but the film wouldn't really have had anything going for it if he had. Maybe in the 1930's it would have still been considered a good film, even without "the scene", but 80 years later, it wouldn't stand up or be memorable at all.

Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Christopher on October 10, 2018, 11:22:52 AM
I haven't watched the movie yet, and didn't read Matt's spoiler, but I do know what scene you're referring to. Or at least I figured I knew what scene it was when you mentioned that, and then SK confirmed it (I haven't seen that footage anytime recently, but do remember seeing the scene in an interview with Hitchcock and hearing his comments about it). I'm definitely intrigued about watching it now.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 10, 2018, 06:56:54 PM
I could post some excerpts from interviews with Hitchcock where he discusses "THE SCENE," if anyone's curious. I could also post an excerpt from a contemporary review demonstrating that the concept of "spoiler" wasn't around when this film was released.

(From a big Hitchcock project I worked on back in the 1990s ... I found where I put the text files we used.)
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 10, 2018, 09:57:23 PM
I could post some excerpts from interviews with Hitchcock where he discusses "THE SCENE," if anyone's curious. I could also post an excerpt from a contemporary review demonstrating that the concept of "spoiler" wasn't around when this film was released.

(From a big Hitchcock project I worked on back in the 1990s ... I found where I put the text files we used.)

I'd be interested!  :)
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 10, 2018, 10:45:39 PM
I'd be interested!  :)

Coming soon! :)
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 11, 2018, 09:29:58 PM
Here's a pair of reviews of Sabotage (or The Woman Alone) from the New York Times. Both of these are by Frank S. Nugent, and appeared on respectively February 27 and February 28, 1937. Note, no spoiler here.

Quote
Alfred Hitchcock, that sturdy yeoman of the Gaumont-British guard, has whittled a pitilessly melodramatic segment from Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent" and, calling it "The Woman Alone, " has placed it on exhibition at the Roxy as a masterly exercise in suspense. His new film is imperfect narrative, but perfect dramaturgy. Impatiently brushing aside all but the semblance of motivation, he has plunged his camera lens into the heart of Conrad's story and has brought out a brilliantly executed fragment of a plot that had more logic than he gives it. In another director this would have been unpardonable, but Mr. Hitchcock's technique is its own excuse.

Always the master of his picture's destiny, Mr. Hitchcock has reduced "The Woman Alone" to the bare essentials of its narrative, selecting only those incidents which he could bend to his melodramatic will. His directorial pace is deceptively deliberate, but he builds ruthlessly to his climaxes and he makes their impact hard and sudden. His players, including the superb Oscar Homolka, Sylvia Sidney, John Loder and that engaging youngster, Desmond Tester, are held rigidly to the line of story advancement but, within the narrow limits Hitchcock permits them, contribute sound characterizations.

The scene is London; the time the present; the theme sabotage. For reasons obscure, a small cinema theatre owner, Verloc, has been commissioned to terrorize London. His first step is to cripple the city's lighting plant. London accepts the blackout as a joke. The foreign agent employing him warns that London must not laugh the next time: a time bomb, left in a Piccadilly cloakroom, would really test the British sense of humor.

Verloc, under surveillance by Scotland Yard, is unable to deliver the bomb himself and selects his wife's small brother as the innocent messenger of death. The lad takes the paper-wrapped bomb, timed to explode at 1:45, and begins his trip across London. Verloc has warned him to leave the harmless little packet no later than 1:30. Hitchcock has directed the sequence fiendishly. It is almost an agonizing experience to have to sit silently and watch the careless youngster's dawdling progress across London, idling at shop windows, selected by a sidewalk vender for a hair-tonic demonstration, delayed by a parade, by traffic and by fussy bobbies.

We won't tell you what happens. That would be to cheat Mr. Hitchcock of his just reward, but it is a warning what you may expect -- which, as is the way of all Hitchcock melodramas, is the unexpected.

Mr. Homolka as Verloc is a perfect tool for Hitchcock's deliberate tempo. Miss Sidney as his bewildered wife, tragically mothering her young brother; Master Tester as the boy, John Loder as the romantic sergeant from Scotland Yard and William Dewhurst as the bomb manufacturer are severally perfect. But it is Mr. Hitchcock's picture and a valuable one, for all its refusal to give us the whys and the wherefores of the sabotage plot.

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Mr. Hitchcock's "The Woman Alone," produced by Gaumont British and now at the Roxy, finds the rotund, cup-breaking English director at his mercilessly melodramatic best. In common with that other departmental hero, Fritz Lang, Mr. Hitchcock has an amazing and an almost unanalyzable gift for creating and prolonging suspense. It is more than mere camera technique, more than mere editing, more than the mere expressive performances he invariably gets from his players. All three contribute, of course, but Mr. Hitchcock breathes something beyond these into his pictures. His tempo is rhythmic and hysterical. He sets his mood, he binds you to it, he leads you relentlessly to an emotional breaking point, then snaps his fingers and releases you from his spell.

Possibly I am unduly sensitive to his method, but I have yet to leave one of his pictures without feeling that I have left most of my starch behind me. He has one sequence in this tale of sabotage -- the film is based on Joseph Conrad's "Secret Agent" -- which not only wilted my collar but my spine. A small boy, innocently carrying a time bomb set to explode at 1:45, sets out on his journey across London to Piccadilly Circus, where he has been told to leave the harmless little package at a checkroom. His instructions were to get there without fail by 1:30. The words "infernal machine" really assume their true meaning as we watch that youngster dawdling in front of shop windows, undergoing a hair-tonic demonstration by a sidewalk merchant, gaping at the Lord Mayor's Show, being delayed by traffic lights as the clock ticks off its deadly minutes. Mr. Hitchcock is unsparing; he has given us a withering picture.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 11, 2018, 09:34:18 PM
On the other hand, "Wear.," in Variety (March 3, 1937) ...

Quote
Joseph Conrad's novel on the activities of a secret agent has been made into a fairly gripping story by Director Alfred Hitchcock. Actually it is an intimate character study of a thick-skulled, brutal criminal. This is a weakness, because average American audiences expect Scotland Yard sleuthing to develop. When it doesn't, the film disappoints.

Picture does not spell more than average box-office returns, and most of this will have to come from the doubles. Sylvia Sidney is the only name that means anything in the U.S., while Oscar Homolka, who gives the top performance, is unknown to American customers. Other detriments are slow pace, lack of humor and infinite attention to detail.

Picture will not add to Miss Sidney's laurels. She has only one really gripping scene, and merely walks through the majority of the episodes. Photographer never flatters her; and the costume department apparently dished her whatever was handy. In addition, the sole opportunity, via the romance with the youthful detective, is so haphazardly developed that it proves incidental to the central theme.

Sabotage by foreign agents operating in England provides the background for the visual study of the dim-witted criminal. Author has taken a cowardly American gangster type for his research, portraying his reactions under different existing circumstances. First, when he is forced to participate in a bomb plot, then when he shoves responsibility off on his wife's small brother, and his feelings when he realizes the youth has lost his life carrying out this mission. There is a climaxial close-up of his brutal nature as he, too late, realizes his wife's intention of killing him.

When interest focuses on him, the vehicle is gripping, largely due to Hitchcock's directorial skill along these lines. But when the picture attempts to be flip, or diverges too far from this main character, it becomes slovenly, with unwitty dialog, stodgey backgrounds and divergent themes.

Director Hitchcock and cameraman Bernard Knowles have teamed well for the series of episodes leading to the timed bomb blast. Both have done well in developing suspense, with the time element always kept to the fore. Yet the actual explosion is only a flash on the screen, and a bad let-down.

Oscar Homolka's characterization of the slow-thinking, cowardly gangster is stand-out, as usual. John Loder makes a likeable Scotland Yard operative. Desmond Tester, as the typical youngster, is entirely too precise with his boyish dialog to fit this role. There are several good minor parts, particularly those taken by William Dewhurst and Matthew Boulton.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: The Schofield Kid on October 11, 2018, 09:56:49 PM
I hadn't seen this in a few years but when this Hitchcock Movie Club was first mooted, I knew this would be one of the films I'd choose. I knew most people would go for the more well known Hollywood films so I deliberately chose 2 films from the 1930's.

I much prefer the title Sabotage to A Woman Alone. My only quibble is it isn't apparent why Mr Verloc, is mixed up with these terrorists and what is behind their sabotage around London.

My DVD copy of the film was OK. I mean the film does show its age but I didn't have a problem with the sound.

Oscar Homolka plays the villain well, even his eyebrows are spooky.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 11, 2018, 10:14:31 PM
Having just watched one of my favorite characters in a contemporary TV series get blown to smithereens in the final episode of the series ... I'm not feeling much like watching Sabotage tonight. I'll try to get to it tomorrow, though.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 11, 2018, 11:20:20 PM
Ready for an excerpt or two from a Hitchcock interview? 

Actually, this first one is from an article by Hitch, titled "The Enjoyment of Fear," originally published in Good Housekeeping 128 (February 1949): 39, 241–43, 116-121. (All of these were reprinted in a collection titled Hitchcock on Hitchcock, edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 1995)

Quote
... What all this amounts to is this: as the audience sympathy for a character is built up, the audience assumes that a sort of invisible cloak to protect the wearer from harm is being fitted. Once the sympathies are fully established and the cloak is finished, it is not—in the audience opinion, and in the opinion of many critics—fair play to violate the cloak and bring its wearer to a disastrous end. I did it once, in a picture called Sabotage. One of the characters was a small boy, with whom the audience was encouraged to fall in love. I sent the boy wandering about London with what he supposed was a can of film under his arm, but what the audience knew full well contained a time bomb. Under this set of circumstance, the lad is protected by his cloak from premature explosion of the bomb. I blew him up anyway, along with several other passengers on a bus he happened to be riding.

Now, that episode in Sabotage was a direct negation of the invisible cloak of protection worn by sympathetic characters in motion pictures. In addition, because the audience knew the film can contained a bomb and the boy did not, to permit the bomb to explode was a violation of the rule forbidding a direct combination of suspense and terror, or forewarning and surprise. Had the audience not been informed of the real contents of the can, the explosion would have come as a complete surprise. As a result of a sort of emotional numbness induced by a shock of this kind, I believe their sensibilities might not have been so thoroughly outraged. As it was, the audiences—and the critics, too—were unanimously of the opinion that I should have been riding in the seat next to the lad, preferably the seat he set the bomb on.

Next, from an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, originally published in Peter Bogdanovich, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963):

Quote
Bogdanovich: Sabotage had a grimmer aspect than most of the other British films. Is this because of the bomb incident?

Hitchcock: Oh, that was a big error. I made a cardinal error there in terms of suspense. The bomb should never have gone off. If you build an audience up to that point, the explosion becomes strangely anti-climactic. You work the audience up to such a degree that they need the relief. The critics were very angry. One woman said, "I could hit you." I found everybody protesting against it. Now the boy had to be killed for the sake of the story. One should have done the killing a different way, off the screen or something. I shouldn't have made a suspense thing of it.

Finally, from "Alfred Hitchcock on his Films: Interview with Huw Whelden," originally published in The Listener, August 6, 1964, 189–90:
Quote
Hitchcock: I once [in Sabotage (1936)] committed a grave error in having a bomb from which I had extracted a great deal of suspense. I had the thing go off and kill someone, which I should never have done, because they needed the relief from their suspense. Bad technique: never repeated it.

Wheldon: Bad technique, yes. Mind you, perhaps it came nearer reality, because bombs do go off.

Hitchcock: That's probably true. I don't think many people want reality, whether it is in the theatre or in a film. It must look real, but it must never be real, because reality is something none of us can stand, at any time.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 13, 2018, 05:16:03 PM

I much prefer the title Sabotage to A Woman Alone. My only quibble is it isn't apparent why Mr Verloc, is mixed up with these terrorists and what is behind their sabotage around London.


I assumed he was in it for the money (their theater was failing).  I read that Verloc's first name in the novel the film was based on (The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad) was "Adolf", and the screenwriter Charles Bennett felt it was important to change that so it didn't appear to be connected in any way to Nazi Germany. In any case, the terrorists just wanted to terrorize because that's what terrorists do.

(And right now, my dog is terrorizing me, because that's what she does. So I'd better cut this post short so I can see what she wants!)

Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 13, 2018, 05:52:44 PM
On the other hand, "Wear.," in Variety (March 3, 1937) ...

I agree with this review. Wish I could write a review like that.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 13, 2018, 05:59:50 PM


Finally, from "Alfred Hitchcock on his Films: Interview with Huw Whelden," originally published in The Listener, August 6, 1964, 189–90:

Quote
I don't think many people want reality, whether it is in the theatre or in a film. It must look real, but it must never be real, because reality is something none of us can stand, at any time.



Thanks for posting these KC.  I especially like that last bit -- that's pretty heavy. This scene seems so tame now (though still shocking), compared to the "reality" we've gotten used to in modern films.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: Matt on October 13, 2018, 06:06:12 PM
I tried to watch this yesterday, and I couldn't get through it. It didn't hold my interest at all. I watched it for about a half an hour, which given the short runtime, was almost half the movie, and it wasn't immediately clear to me what the plot of the movie even was or who the main characters were that I was supposed to be caring about. Very disappointing.

I don't really blame you for giving up on this one. But, the second half is better and makes the film worthwhile. But, the film does look and feel its age.
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 13, 2018, 11:59:59 PM
I watched Sabotage last night and found it very absorbing. (Remember, I'd seen it before, and was already more than familiar with the "big shocker," so I was free to concentrate on other aspects.) I have quite a lot to say about it, but I don't know if I'll find the time or patience to type out everything. For now, just a few points.

1) If this film were being released today, it would surely be titled Terror or The Terrorists. Wreaking havoc at the heart of a great city, killing dozens of innocent people ... we are all too familiar with these tactics in today's world. Oh, and using children as the courier for explosives. (Maybe it wasn't the original plan of the "saboteurs" to blow up a bus with the child courier on board, but that was the result, and it's something we've come to expect will happen today with relentless frequency.

2) This movie is over-the-top meta. One of the most self-conscious of directors makes a movie with at its heart ... a movie theater. The theater is inextricably connected to the domestic life of the central characters: Verloc owns it, his wife mans the box office, and you can't get to their living quarters without passing through it. We're constantly reminded that these people (like Hitchcock) depend for their livelihood on pleasing people watching movies. If they are displeased ... if they ask for their money back, as people did in the opening scene, the characters lose their livelihood. And yet the movie story Hitchcock chooses to tell is one that DID displease audiences, to the point where many were, if not asking for their money back, at least publicly venting their anger towards the director.

3) And what are the movies that please audiences? On the evidence of what we see here, mostly movies about ... murder. (Bartholomew the Strangler, for example.) Certainly by this time audiences expected the pleasure of a good murder mystery from the average Hitchcock movie. But the killings that happen in this one will mostly make audiences profoundly uneasy: first the explosion on the bus, which Hitchcock himself admitted violated the usual pact filmmakers make with the audience, and then the sudden stabbing of Verloc by the very sympathetic female lead, and her deeply troubled reaction to her own act of violence.

4) The birds. The Birds! Of course, in 1937 Hitchcock would have no way of knowing that almost three decades later he'd make a movie in which he would cast birds as actual terrorists (or "saboteurs"), but their role in this film is interesting enough. The bombmaker, like Verloc, leads a double life, and like Verloc, his two lives are intertwined. Verloc passes through his movie theater to his domestic quarters, where he plans acts of sabotage. The bombmaker passes through his bird shop, where he sells happily singing canaries to lonely people wanting a companion, to his domestic quarters, where he keeps bombmaking ingredients in ordinary containers in an ordinary cabinet, so ordinary that he doesn't at first notice that his granddaughter's doll has found a place there. When he delivers a bomb to Verloc, it comes with a pair of cheery canaries in a cage, a present for young Stevie, already doomed as he whistles to his new feathered friends.

Then after the explosion, when Mrs. Verloc has realized her husband is responsible for the death of Stevie and the others on the bus, after his weak attempt to justify himself to her, she rushes past the canaries in the cage, out of the apartment and into the theater, where people are enjoying a Disney cartoon. She sits down in the audience and begins laughing too. We hear whistling, and see what's on the screen ... cartoon birds. Mrs. Verloc keeps on laughing with the others, until one of the birds is pierced by an arrow and falls out of the tree. It's "Who killed Cock Robin?" another murder story.

More to come, I hope, on the topic of "A Woman Alone."
Title: Re: Sabotage (1936)
Post by: KC on October 14, 2018, 12:01:24 AM
PS, AKA, if you're not clear on who the main characters are (in any film of this era, not just Hitchcock) ... look for the ones who get the most closeups.