Top positive review
SABOTAGE [1936 / 2015] [Blu-ray]
18 February 2016
SABOTAGE [1936 / 2015] [Blu-ray] Alfred Hitchcock's Most Significant Mystery Melodrama Pre-war British Film!
Celebrated for the macabre, tour-de-force plots and sublime twist endings that would come to define the very genre of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock is one of cinema's greatest auteurs, his career spanning six decades and over sixty films. Based on Joseph Conrad's ‘The Secret Agent’ and starring Oscar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney, ‘SABOTAGE’ is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most significant pre-war British films. Featured here in a High Definition transfer from original film elements, this classic early thriller has never looked better.
Karl Verloc, manager of a London cinema, is secretly involved with a gang of European saboteurs who are plotting a massive bomb attack in Piccadilly Circus. With the police already suspicious of Karl Verloc, they place an undercover detective on his trail and can he bring the saboteurs to justice before they perpetrate their outrage on London?
FILM FACT: The fact that many scenes of the film were set in a cinema allowed Alfred Hitchcock to include references to contemporary films and storylines. Perhaps the most famous of these is the final film sequence, an excerpt from a Walt Disney ‘Silly Symphony’ Who Killed Cock Robin? . Alfred Hitchcock wanted to cast Robert Donat (with whom he had previously worked in ‘The 39 Steps’) as Sergeant Ted Spencer, but was forced to cast John Loder due to Robert Donat's chronic asthma. Alfred Hitchcock also chose the young Bobby Rietti (later known as Robert Rietti) to play the part of Steve, but was not able to sign him for legal reasons. Mrs. Verloc was Sylvia Sidney’s only role for Hitchcock. Reportedly, they did not get along and she refused to work for him again.
Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder, Joyce Barbour, Matthew Boulton, S.J. Warmington, William Dewhurst, Pamela Bevan (uncredited), Peter Bull (uncredited), Albert Chevalier (uncredited), Clare Greet (uncredited), Charles Hawtrey (uncredited), Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited), Martita Hunt (uncredited), Mike Johnson (uncredited), Hubert Leslie (uncredited), Aubrey Mather (uncredited), Frederick Piper (uncredited), Fred Schwartz (uncredited), Torin Thatcher (uncredited), Austin Trevor (uncredited), Jack Vyvian (uncredited) and Sam Wilkinson (uncredited)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producers: Ivor Montagu (uncredited) and Michael Balcon (uncredited)
Screenplay: Charles Bennett and Joseph Conrad (story)
Composers: Jack Beaver, Hubert Bath and Louis levy
Cinematography: Bernard Knowles
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black-and-White]
Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Radio: 1.37:1
Running Time: 76 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: A Gaumont-British Picture Corporation / Network
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: In 1936 the idea of a terrorist blowing up a bus in London's Piccadilly Circus was an unimaginable and somewhat outrageous conceit. Yet that action provides one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous and controversial sequences in ‘SABOTAGE’ , an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel, “The Secret Agent” (the novel of the title was actually the name of Alfred Hitchcock's previous film, which was based on W. Somerset Maugham's "Ashenden" adventure stories, hence the need for a new title). At the story's centre is Karl Verloc [Oscar Homolka], the owner of a cinema theatre and a member of a secret terrorist organization bent on destroying London. His wife Mrs. Verloc [Sylvia Sidney] is completely ignorant of her husband's activities until a government agent Det. Sgt. Ted Spencer [John Loder], pretending to be a grocer, arouses her suspicions, but not in time to prevent a terrible tragedy.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film ‘SABOTAGE’ [‘The Woman Alone’ USA Title] is one of the masters of suspense’s earlier efforts, but it once again shows why he’s one of cinema’s greatest directors and based on Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent.” The ‘SABOTAGE’ film opens with a definition of the word “sabotage” which states “wilful destruction of buildings or machinery with the aim of alarming a group of persons or inspiring public unease.”
‘SABOTAGE’ holds up very well in the 21st Century. The central themes on terrorism within the British capital are even more relevant today in 2015 than they were when Alfred Hitchcock first made the film in the 1930s. That’s what makes the movie such essential viewing today and the concept of terrorism hitting at the heart of the homeland.
‘SABOTAGE’ is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier efforts and the film was one of the last films that the director made before upping sticks and moving to Hollywood. It’s easy to see why America came calling, because ‘SABOTAGE’ is yet another fine example of the director drawing tension from a relatively simple concept. The fact that the central character owns a cinema lets Alfred Hitchcock play with his passion and unleash tiny homages to the art form that he clearly loves so well.
Oskar Homolka delivers a strong performance as the terrorist, while Sylvia Sydney offers strong support as the wife oblivious to her husband’s deadly secret. You’re drawn into the characters here and you invest in them as well as the plot. That’s what makes Alfred Hitchcock such a great director and he litters his film with tiny details. He’s not content with simply ratcheting up the tension and he works at making the world in his films feel tangible and real and this helps draw the audience in when things become emotionally taut. They’re on-board with him when the plot gets farfetched and at this point they don’t care when he takes them over the edge and into the ridiculous.
Oskar 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 Alfred Hitchcock's picture and a valuable one, for its entire refusal to give us the whys and the wherefores of the sabotage plot. I will not inform you what happens, because that would be to cheat Alfred Hitchcock of his just reward, but it is a warning what you may not expect, which, as are the way of all Alfred Hitchcock melodramas, is the unexpected.
‘SABOTAGE’ was widely praised on its release in 1936, although Observer critic C.A. Lejeune was generally a strong supporter of Alfred Hitchcock, complained about the cruelty of the explosion scene, which is perhaps why the director dismissed it years later. Despite the vagueness of its politics, the film was banned in Brazil as a potential threat to public order.
‘SABOTAGE’ was Alfred Hitchcock's last film for Gaumont-British Picture Corporation which, at the behest of its financiers the Ostrer brothers, had decided to abandon production and concentrate on distribution. For what would be his last two pictures before relocating to Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock signed once again with Gainsborough on a two film contract.
Hollywood did indeed take notice of Alfred Hitchcock. After completing ‘Jamaica Inn’ in 1939, and Alfred Hitchcock and family emigrated lock, stock and barrel to the USA to make the film ‘Rebecca’  for producer David O. Selznick and begin a long and illustrious career in America. However, ‘SABOTAGE’ was not a major success for the director, partly due to the controversial bus bombing sequence. It was banned outright in Brazil where it was accused by the censors of teaching conspiracy and terrorist techniques. In the USA it was given a title change ‘A Woman Alone’ but it didn't fare much better with audiences here than in Britain. Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, wrote in her book, “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” saying that "the film was definitely a bit of a downer. Sabotage remains, probably with ‘Vertigo’  and ‘Psycho’ , one of my father's darkest films, where a happy ending was impossible."
Blu-ray Video Quality – Network brings us ‘SABOTAGE’ in a 1080p Black-and-White image resolution, and sadly we encounter less than pristine HD transfer. The black levels are a touch soft when the light levels drop, and the picture displays the sort of exposure flicker that we once accepted as inevitable on older films before modern digital restoration really made it mark. Dust spots have been minimised, but the odd frame of damage is still visible and the picture jiggles around just a little in the gate. But in other respects this transfer justifies its Blu-ray incarnation, particularly in the level of picture detail, which is far superior to any Standard inferior DVD version you may have seen, and in the daylight scenes the contrast is very well balanced, the tonal range generous and the image itself pleasing. Not perfect, perhaps, but still a solid and impressive job and network should be praised for trying their best to bring as best an image quality with what was available from the original negative. Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio track shows its age in the narrowness of the dynamic range and the treble bias, but there are very few signs of damage, the dialogue is always distinct, and there is next to no background hiss or noise.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Special Feature: Introduction by Charles Barr  [1080i] [1.33:1] [3:40] Professor Charles Barr of the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia provides a brief but interesting overview of Alfred Hitchcock's working relationship with left-wing aristocrat Ivor Montagu, who was instrumental in introducing him to the work of the silent-era Soviet filmmakers, whose influence is clearly visible on this film. Charles Barr sees the scene as evidence of the influence of Soviet montage that Alfred Hitchcock’s collaborator Ivor Montagu had introduced him to. But one must add that such cross-cutting was also a feature of DW Griffith and other directors in the silent period (with the famous example of cutting between the speeding train and the heroine tied to the track). The (almost silent) opening shots of a light bulb, a power station, the bulb flickering and going out followed by the sabotage being discovered and finally Karl Verloc walking out of the shadows certainly recalls the Soviet style, although here it is used for a different purpose. Charles Barr also points out the two key scenes in ‘SABOTAGE’ that help build up the tension in the film that was Alfred Hitchcock’s famous trade mark, which made his films so loved by the cinema going public and film critics.
Special Feature: “On Location” introduced by Robert Powell  [1080i] [1.33:1] [11:06] Robert Powell, who played Richard Hannay in the second remake of Alfred Hitchcock's ‘The 39 Steps,’ takes us on a brief but engaging tour of London locations used in the film ‘SABOTAGE.’ The first location on Robert’s tour is London Zoo and the Aquarium, where you asked if you recognise the famous Carry On film actor that we have a brief glimpse of in the 1936 film. Next on the tour is Trafalgar Square, then we move onto the famous Simpson’s in the Strand, where the three characters have a meal. We then have a section called “Movie Trivia” which Robert Powell explains certain scenes in the film and why Alfred Hitchcock decided to shoot them that way. But finally Robert Powell reveals the Carry On film actor that appeared in a short scene from ‘SABOTAGE’ and of course Robert reveals it is of course Charles Hawtrey. Now again we get scenes from the film ‘SABOTAGE’ that Robert Powell shows us on his tour and suppose you could class this as spoilers, so not one for those who have not watched this film.
Special Feature: Image Gallery [1080p] [2:26] Here we get a rolling gallery of Cinema Film Posters, Front-of-House Cinema Lobby Cards that are colorized, we also get to view lots of Black-and-White publicity promotional stills, plus lots of Black-and-White studio photographs, and the majority are of very high quality. Also Included are some very rare behind-the-scenes shot of the Lord Mayor's show that was faked in a field in Norfolk, and one of Alfred Hitchcock and Oscar Homolka in cheerful mood.
BONUS: Here we have a beautiful designed Blu-ray Cover and especially inside where you have on one side displayed two colorized cinema posters for ‘The Woman Alone’ [USA Release] and one for ‘SABOTAGE’ [UK Release]. Below that we have six colorized Cinema Lobby Cards for ‘The Woman Alone.’ On the right hand side you have a Network advert for their ‘Network Film On Air’ publication, which you can sign up to receive online their weekly newsletter and a free monthly collectable PDF magazine highlighting new releases in the BRITSH FILM range from Network.
Finally, Every Alfred Hitchcock is worth watching but ‘SABOTAGE’ is a great example of his work as a director without the excess of a Hollywood budget, not that it was ever a bad thing. It’s a tense, dramatic thriller that works as well today as it did back when it was released in 1936. Alfred Hitchcock's ‘SABOTAGE’ was an underrated and too rarely seen film from Alfred Hitchcock's late British period that scores on intrigue and tension, and even from a modern perspective delivers a genuine jolt by breaking a rule that the director otherwise swore by. An Arrow-standard restoration would have been lovely, but despite some visible imperfections, Network's Blu-ray still delivers the goods. It is nice to own Alfred Hitchcock's ‘SABOTAGE’ on Blu-ray. I found this a very dark exciting film with the child aspect, but Sylvia Sidney is her usual, bright, charming self. This is a very good film. This transfer is far better than previous inferior DVD versions and it will be a film I will definitely want to revisit. Despite any slight age-related image problems, it still worth purchasing and this early Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller has never looked better. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom