Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Sabotage": 1936 little-known Hitchcock classic is oddly prescient of the post 9/11 world


Alfred Hitchcock directed a relatively little known film in 1936, “Sabotage”, based on a novel by Joseph Conrad, that surprisingly anticipates our homeland security issues today, particularly as they have played out in Britain during the middle of this decade.

The film appears on a Laserlight DVD (a company known for low cost classical music anthology CD’s), and when inserted starts playing the film, which is of rather poor restorative quality, without a menu, which appears in the middle with the Introduction by Tony Curtis.

The plot is as intricate as many of Hitchcock’s later “international” Cold War thrillers. A movie theater owner Verloc (Oskar Homolka) is gradually being drawn into a plot to set up truck bombs in London in the mid 1930s. There is an early scene of a disturbance and power outage at his theater, and a question as to whether there is an obligation to pay back patrons. A Scotland Yard detective trails him, while his wife slowly has to come to grips with the reality that her husband is a monster. There is a scene late in the film where the audience watches the Disney cartoon “Who Killed Cock Robin?”, which foreshadows what the wife will do; and the final violence will cover up her act and her interest in another man.

The “enemy” is not specified, but presumably it could be Hitler; but in 1935 or so no one realized that Germany would become the enemy. Presumably the plot could also be “Red”, given the economic depression in Britain then. The film doesn’t really get into the nihilistic psychology of terrorism as it has evolved, but the concept of the story is curiously prescient.

The film opens with a dictionary definition of “sabotage” which mentions the desire to create public unrest and fear and distrust of the current system. The film should not be confused with the later Hitchcock “Saboteur”.

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