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Sabotage [DVD]
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Sabotage is one of Hitchcock's best British features, a smart updating of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent that cleverly gets around the censor's objections to the author's saboteur hiding behind the counter of a Soho shop selling mucky books under the counter by turning him into the manager of a seedy fleapit cinema, which is clearly the next best thing. That's not to say that Hitchcock isn't pushing the material as far as he can - in the film's most famous sequence he doesn't just put a boy with bomb on bus but a loveable puppy as well while the police are resolutely unambitious, simply happy to go after the minions rather than the masterminds - though he does lose the petty politics of the novel and the tragic finale to turn it into a more conventional and pacier thriller. Rather than a useless talking shop of anarchists who never do anything until manipulated by a foreign government into action, Verloc's acquaintances here are a more overtly criminal gang made up of the likes of Torin Thatcher and Peter Bull, and Verloc himself is a more mercenary figure in it for the money. It also changes the target of the atrocity, no longer the symbolic Greenwich and an assault on `time itself' but Piccadilly Circus, `the centre of the world.'

More significantly, Sylvia Sidney's Mrs Verloc is a much stronger figure here than in the novel, with more than a mere insinuation of romantic attraction to John Loder's undercover cop who is ultimately willing to cover up a crime for her (in true movie formula you know they'll get together because they start off hating each other). That their relationship has more than a hint of Hitchcock's earlier Blackmail is perhaps not so surprising considering its screenwriter Charles Bennett's prominence among the four credited writers. But while it may follow the formula of many of Hitchcock's British films, it's still filled with strikingly memorable detours like the bomb-making professor and his silent but communicative daughter and granddaughter ("Is the father dead?" "I don't know. He MIGHT be.") and technical flourishes such as an Aquarium tank turning into Piccadilly Circus as it crumbles into dust after a imagined bomb blast. And it also has a terrific turn from Oskar Homolka as Verloc, who may be a less complex figure than Conrad's self-critically semi-autobiographical creation, but still manages a superb combination of pathetic desperation and amoral reptilian menace.

One of Hitchcock's best, unlike the plethora of public domain releases flooding the market, Network's UK PAL DVD copy is superb, looking almost like new, and comes with a few minor extras - an introduction by Charles Barr, a featurette on the locations introduced by Robert Powell and a brief stills and poster gallery.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 June 2012
Made shortly after his classic The 39 Steps, Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 film Sabotage is another early gem from this cinematic master. Given that the film was made with (necessarily) rudimentary production values, Hitchcock still manages to impress greatly in his skilful use of stage and (London) location sets, which, together with superb editing and close-up photography (creating great audience tension), lead me to rate the film as a five star effort (particularly for its time). For the film, Hitchcock deftly cast US import Sylvia Sidney and Hungarian-born Oskar Homolka as the married couple, the Verlocs, who live in and run a London cinema, which they share with Mrs Verloc's younger brother Stevie. However, unbeknown to Mrs Verloc, husband Karl is engaged in activities of sabotage, which begin with the deliberate shutting down of Battersea power station (producing a London-wide blackout), but which progress (at the behest of Karl's senior collaborators) to more serious matters, with the proposed planting of a bomb at Piccadilly Circus.

Hitchcock and cinematographer Bernard Knowles have created a brilliantly authentic look and feel to the exterior London shots, with the pervading atmosphere of the film gradually becoming more claustrophobic and menacing as it progresses. Similarly, Charles Bennett's screenplay is full of smatterings of 'wartime banter' and (cockney) humour in the early sections of the film (typical of the Hitchcock films of this period), before taking on a more sinister tone as Karl's evil plans are gradually revealed (although one might argue that his suspicious behaviour - and accent - could be regarded as something of a giveaway!). The film is full of brilliantly designed set-pieces and trademark Hitchcock touches. Particularly impressive is the use of close-ups - such as that on Verloc's face as young Stevie is describing what he might expect a gangster to look like, and then again on the face of his wife, as, towards the end of the film, her smile at watching a 'who killed cock robin?' cartoon turns to a grimace as the truth about her husband finally begins to sink in. Hitch also includes an innovative scene where Karl's view of the aquarium at London Zoo (where he has just been given his latest instructions) suddenly morphs into a view of Piccadilly Circus collapsing as if being hit by a massive explosion.

On the acting front, both Sidney and Homolka deliver outstanding performances - she, as the perennially innocent wife whose gradual realisation of her predicament is superbly done, and he, as the apparently loving husband, but whose underlying motives are cold-blooded and calculating. John Loder also gives a solid performance as the undercover policeman planted at the nearby grocery stall to keep an eye on Verloc - in fact, Loder's role here of befriending a close confident of the guilty party is a plot device Hitchcock has used elsewhere, notably relating to Teresa Wright and undercover cop Macdonald Carey in Shadow Of A Doubt.

A final mention should also be made of the film's most famous scene, that where little Stevie is transporting the suspicious parcel to make his timed delivery at Piccadilly Circus, whilst the Lord Mayor's Show is going on in the streets. Hitch is at his brilliant best here as he uses a range of devices to slow up Stevie's progress (including having him accosted at a market stall for a toothpaste demonstration!), with nearby street clocks tracking the time, thereby upping audience tension to unbearable levels. And to cap the scene, the master of suspense (and black comedy) then has Stevie sit down next to an old lady who is carrying a small puppy!

A film which, whilst for me not on a par (scale or content-wise) with some of Hitchcock's later masterpieces, contains enough great things to qualify as an outstanding thriller, and a portent of things to come.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2015
Just watched Sabotage blu-ray from Network U.K. It's region B locked. The picture and sound quality are quite nice, maybe a notch above their last release of Young and Innocent. Picture is stable with good grain and no noticeable film damage. Some mild contrast wavering and soft shots, but I think this is fairly typical of these early British films. Audio is clear with no noticeable hiss. Overall a good film at a good price.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 November 2013
I didn`t expect too much from this 1936 Hitchcock adaptation of Conrad`s exciting novel about anarchists at large in London, so I was delighted at just how good it is, capturing some of the paranoid spirit of the book, and populating each frame with perfectly realised scenes of the teeming streets of the city.
Oscar Homolka plays Verloc, the mild-mannered European-born owner of a cinema, with Sylvia Sidney as his worried wife. They`re both superb. She`s worried because of the odd things that have been happening, including the total blackout which opens the film, bringing an abrupt halt to the well-attended film she`s showing, and the suspicious way her husband has been behaving lately.
John Loder (a forgotten actor now) is effective as a policeman undercover as a neighbouring greengrocer`s assistant, who gets more and more entangled with the anarchists` plotting as well as with the pretty Mrs Verloc.
Then there`s the matter of the messenger boy, who is given a parcel to deliver by a certain time, but gets waylaid by his own curiosity, so has to take the bus...
This can hold its head high in the company of any of Hitch`s later classics, due mainly to the richness of its photography, its set designs, and the Master`s sure grip on its direction. The whole thing whips along in just over 70 minutes, and there`s barely a dull scene or shot among them. It`s a pleasure simply admiring the way he`s assembled his extras for the crowd scenes, angling the camera in typical innovatory fashion, to express the mounting fear and paranoia of both Mrs Verloc and the plotters themselves.
It`s a great film to look at!
I was momentarily surprised to see none other than a young Charles Hawtrey (over twenty years before he began to Carry On) stroll across the screen in a very brief one-line cameo, but he was by then in his early twenties - having begun as a child actor - with a string of films already to his credit.
Sabotage (by coincidence Hitch had used Conrad`s original title The Secret Agent earlier that year for another film) is an engrossing, suspenseful comedy-drama, and one of the most rewarding of Hitchcock`s pre-Hollywood films.
Definitely one I`ll be watching again.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2005
When people think of Hitchcock films, they talk about the tension, the frights and the shocks. They forget that almost all of Hitchcock's films were based upon good, sometimes excellent thriller novels (in this case provided by Joseph Conrad.) He also had an intelligent group of screenplay writers with him. To cut a long story short, the dialogue in this film (as in most hitchcocks) is marvellous: it is fun and witty when it won't be ruining the tension, and as the film draws to its cushion-bitingly tense conclusion it supplies speeches which are realistic and engaging but not hackneyed, and which allow us to actually enjoy and immerse ourselves in a brutally nerve-racking finale, without dissecting or judging it.
While John Loder (in standard english hero form) attempts to emulate Robert Donat, and does a fair job too, Sylvia Sidney provides a fantastic performance as the wife who is unwilling to think badly of her husband, but gradually becomes more and more cautious. Oscar Homolka also does brilliantly by providing a character who is more hateful for his weakness and his concordance with others' orders than for his evil deeds.
Part of the film (the bit with the bus) is nasty and unpredictable enough to even be something that Quentin Tarantino 60 or 70 years later wouldn't dare do, and this, joined with its many other assets remind us that this isn't a generic tinseltown picture, but a classic Hitchcock which everyone WOULD enjoy, yet a piece that probably only the fans will have the opportunity to appreciate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2015
Based (liberally I might add) on Joesph Conrad's The Secret Agent, Sabotage is another early effort from the grand old master of suspence. Sylvia Sydney stars as the sympathetic Mrs. Verloc, a kind hearted and naive woman who dotes on her little brother and takes care of her overaged husband (played brilliantly by Oskar Homlka) Unknowingly, to his young wife, Mr Verloc is a saboteur who, for money, tries to put fear into the population of London. Falling for the charms of the young and handsome Ted Specner (John Loder) Mrs. Verloc begins to see what her husband truly is, culmitlating in and exciting finale.

This is a great early under the radar classic from Hitchcock's British era that, for most of the time, consisted both suspence, wit and set pieces. Sabotage has its fair share of those, but it lacks in other areas namely fast paced wit and the flare of the chase that is superbly used in The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. Having said that Sabotage is still gripping as the very best from his later Hollywood era. A must watch for any Hitchcock fan, and a perfect sombre entry for those who want to explore the master's early British career.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 8 April 2008
This is a just barely okay print of a pretty good early Hitchcock movie that would be a classic but for the dismal and very badly judged romantic ending.It also suffers from poor casting with its leading man, John Loder, who completely lacks any of Robert Donat or Cary Grant's charm and is consequently quite irritating at times.On the plus side Oscar Homolka is good and Sylvia Sidney is okay,although not one of Hitchcock's best leading ladies.

What sets this film apart,even now,is the script,although it has been much copied in the subsequent years I don't think it's ever been bettered for sheer mischevious malice.There aren't many directors willing to kill off a kid and a sweet little puppy.Hitchcock does and it must have come as a huge surprise at the time and although it's no longer surprising it is still shocking.

The dvd has no scene access and each chapter is about 15 minutes long so you might have to do a bit of ff or rewinding. Although the print is quite sharp in parts it is also very soft at other times, particullarly during exteriors and night scenes.Sound is fine.There might well be better prints available, but this is certainly adequate as long as you buy it cheap.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2011
This adaptation of Conrad's "The Secret Agent" is among Hitchcock's best early films, which I think puts it among his best films, full stop. Oscar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney are not the typical style of actor seen in his films: darker and more vulnerable than usual. They both give splendid performances. The climatic scene between them, carried off entirely without dialogue, is immensely powerful. The production is a mixture of studio and location shooting. The use made of London street life gives a real energy and unpredictability to the action: a far cry from the highly contrived style of later Hitchcock. In the useful extras, there is a tidbit of information on the way Hitchcock staged one of the showpiece exteriors; you'll be amazed how he pulled it off. There is an atmosphere or mood throughout this film which emanates from its principle setting, a local picture theatre, the Bijou. The fantasy world of celluloid amusement and the terrible deeds being plotted within the Verlocs' upstairs parlour play off each other to great effect. The Network release is a beautiful looking transfer.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 4 September 2008
One of the darker movies of Hitchcock's British career, but one of the most successful at the box office, Sabotage is by no means a flawless film, but still does manage to come out on the positive side of the equation.

Veloc's attempts to strike fear into the hearts of London by causing a power cut are laughed at by the newspapers so his paymasters withhold his payment and say that in order to get his money he has to deliver a bomb, timed to go off during the Lord Mayor's parade. What Veloc doesn't know is that the friendly fruit monger next door is actually a policeman and he is already under surveillance. When the policeman notices Veloc sneaking back into his cinema on the night of the power cut, yet later insisting he was in all night, they are sure something is afoot.

Oskar Hemolka is decent enough as Veloc but perhaps lacks the creepy charm that Hitchcock's number one choice, Peter Lorre, would have brought to the role. Slyvia Sidney as his wife was another leading lady that failed to charm, or indeed be charmed, by Hitchcock and although she is never thoroughly convincing, she makes a good fist of her role. John Loder puts in a good performance as the policeman who finds himself falling in love with Mrs Veloc at the same time as realising that her husband is indeed a saboteur and is one of the best things in the movie.

The controversy with the film largely surrounds Stevie, the boy who unwittingly carries the bomb that explodes; Hitch admitted his "mistake" in later years, acknowledging that he would have been better served by not letting the bomb blow up whilst Stevie is carrying it, but in many ways it was the only choice. It is unconceivable that anything other than Stevie's death would lead to Mrs Veloc's actions towards the end of the film, even with the way that the murder is filmed leaving some doubt as to her actual intentions.

There is nothing inherently "wrong" about this film and it carries some of Hitch's characteristic set pieces with aplomb, but it is definitely, for this viewer anyway, missing the spark that would have carried it to greatness. Perhaps the fact that the story never really chooses its focus (with not enough time allocated to any one character) ultimately prevents this from being one of Hitch's best efforts. But even with its flaws, it is certainly a film worth watching.
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The genius of Hitchcock is best seen in his early British films. Back in the 1930s, working with relatively unknown actors and actresses, low budgets, and seemingly rather straightforward scripts, Hitchcock's eye for detail, unique mastery of cinematography, framing, and lighting, and most of all his unsurpassed ability to generate suspense put him in a directing class all by himself. Speaking of suspense, Sabotage packs a particularly nasty punch in that department, resulting in what I consider one of the most memorable cinematic sequences in my own personal experience. Those excruciating moments, and the events they set in motion, make Sabotage a disarmingly powerful, surprisingly emotional film.

The story, adapted from a Joseph Conrad novella, centers around a seemingly harmless cinema run by the Verlocs, foreigners seemingly well-adjusted into life in London. Karl Verloc (Oskar Homolka) is apparently supposed to be German (he sounds a lot like Bela Lugosi, so I initially took him for an eastern European of some sort), while his wife Sylvia (Sylvia Sidney) and her brother Steve (Desmond Tester) came over from America a year earlier. The film opens with a blackout of London, a happenstance we quickly learn to be an act of sabotage committed by Mr. Verloc. Scotland Yard, already suspicious of the man, has a man working undercover at the neighboring grocery (John Loder), but he doesn't have enough evidence to nab the guy. As he cozies up to Mrs. Verloc to see if she knows anything, the mysterious group Verloc is reluctantly working for make plans for a much larger demonstration of their presence (using terrorism to distract England's attention from what is already taking place on continental Europe in this year of 1936).

As you can see, the viewer knows exactly what is going on and exactly what is planned for the near future, but rest assured that Sabotage is in no way lacking in the suspense department. The critical scenes in the movie are rather excruciating and even a fair bit shocking, setting up an ending that might look rather clichéd on paper but proves quite fascinating onscreen - in large part due to Hitchcock's masterful direction. Raw emotion radiates off the screen as Hitchcock proves, even at this relatively early stage of his career, that he is much more than a mere master of suspense.
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