Classic 30s Movie: “Sabotage”

May is Classic 30s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Jeff Xilon.

Movie Title: Sabotage

Year: 1936

Writers: Charles Bennett (screen play), Ian Hay & Helen Simpson (dialogue), Alma Reville (continuity), E.V.H. Emmett (additional dialogue), based on the novel of Joseph Conrad

Lead Actors: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

IMDb Plot Summary: A Scotland Yard undercover detective is on the trail of a saboteur who is part of a plot to set off a bomb in London. But when the detective’s cover is blown, the plot begins to unravel.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 30s Movie

The simplest and most straightforward reason I consider Sabotage to be a classic 30s movie: It is the best movie Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest directors to ever work, made in that decade (and he made 15 of then between 1930 and 1939). Heck, for my money it’s the best movie he made before his 6 year epic run of classic movies that stretched from 1954 to 1960, though many people would probably place their bets elsewhere.

Beyond that though is this: Sabotage is 80 years old, and it can still ratchet up the tension, shock, and surprise a jaded and cynical 21st century audience. If you’ve never seen Sabotage, and remain completely spoiler free, I implore you to see it as soon as possible (and it would probably be best if you came back and read the rest of this afterwards). You can even watch it free online thanks to the internet archive here or on YouTube here though I am unsure of the legality of their availability as the film seems to have entered the public domain at one time and then had it’s copyright restored later thanks to changes in relevant laws.

If you have seen it you’ll know that Sabotage is an excellent reminder that “gritty” and “dark” did not simply spring up in our recent movie offerings as fully formed concepts without heritage. What is perhaps unique to our more modern samples of “gritty realism” is the idea of grit for grit’s sake. Sabotage knows that to have true emotional impact, and thus worth, the darkness, the grit, needs to be earned. So, it gives us characters to care about and relationships to believe in. It builds to its shocks: it shows us Chekov’s gun (or bomb, or knife, or bomb) and still catches us off guard when they come into play.

If you are at all interested in screenwriting and film-making, then I can’t recommend Sabotage enough. It may not have the pedigree of some of the great all-time 30s classics, but it has timeless lessons to teach about storytelling on the big screen.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie

The bus ride. Could it be anything other than Mrs. Verloc’s brother’s ride with a certain special package? (Though Mr. and Mrs. Verloc’s climactic dinner is a close second)

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie

Mrs. Verloc: What do you think you’re doing?
Ted: Just lending a hand.
Mrs. Verloc: I thought I told you not to interfere?
Ted: I’ve been delivering a little counter-attack. Look, they’re on the run.
Mrs. Verloc: Well, they can come right back. Listen ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to get your money back.
Ted: Don’t give in now, I’ll stand by you.
Mrs. Verloc: I’d prefer you go and stand by your apple store.

Frankly most of the dialogue between Ted and Mrs. Verloc sparkles.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie

Well, of course there is The Bus Scene where you should revel in the lost power of a non-digital countdown clock. Be sure to enjoy the performances of the leads, especially Sylvia Sidney and Oskar Homolka. The times Hitchcock eschews dialogue and lets the actors’ faces tell the story. The way the movie subverts all our expectations of what should happen, an effect that is perhaps now multiplied 8 decades later by many people’s expectations of what they will find when they turn to an “old black and white movie.”

I couldn’t find the movie trailer, but here is the famous — some would same infamous — bus scene:

And here is Hitchcock talking about the movie Sabotage and how he would have changed the bus scene:

Thanks, Jeff!

To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 40s movies, 5os movies, 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 30s movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got at least 22 movies in the works and hopefully!

Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!

All Quiet on the Western Front — Michael Waters
Bride of Frankenstein — Marija Nielsen
Bringing Up Baby — Melinda Mahaffey
Captain Blood — John Arends
City Girl — Adam Westbrook
Dracula — Sheila Seaclearr
Duck Soup — David Joyner
Gone With The Wind — W. H. Morris
Gunga Din — Steve Huerta
It Happened One Night — Joni Brainerd
Make Way for Tomorrow — Susan Winchell
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — Amber Watt
Rebecca — Katha
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves — Will King
Sabotage — Jeff Xilon
Stagecoach — Thenewlight
The 39 Steps — Felicity Flesher
The Adventures of Robin Hood — Clay Mitchell
The Petrified Forest — Rachel Sheridan
The Women — Liz Clarke
Topper — Wayne Kline
Vampyr — Megaen Kelly

I am still looking for volunteers. If there’s a 30s movie you’d like to write about, please post your suggestion in comments or contact me via email.

Thanks to everyone who steps up for this ongoing project!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

For all of the 30s movies featured in the series, go here.

Click REPLY and see you in comments about today’s classic 30s movie!

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