Sunday, October 17, 2010


Title: Sabotage
Year: 1936
Studio: Gaumont-British Picture corporation Ltd
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Ian Hay & Helen Simpson
Source Material: The novel 'The Secret Agent' by Joseph Conrad
Running Time: 73 minutes
A black & white picture.

Sunday 17th October, 5:00pm
In a rare moment of brain vacation, I very nearly forgot to do this project this weekend. A lot of the stuff I had intended to do this weekend had, coincidentally, been sabotaged by a variety of circumstances beyond my control and by the time Sunday afternoon had nearly come to a close, I suddenly recalled my oversight, despite having even mentioned it to others just a mere 22 hours previously.

Mrs Verloc - Sylvia Sydney
Carl Verloc - Oscar Homolka
Stevie - Desmond Tester
Ted Spencer - John Loder
Renee - Joyce Barbour
Superintendant Talbot - Matthew Boulton
Hollingshead - S.J. warmington
The Professor - William Dewhurst

One evening in London, there is a power cut. It is discovered at the power plant that somebody has put sand into one of the machines. A man named Mr Carl Verloc returns to his home and cinema business surreptitiously and washes his hands in the sink, leaving sand residue behind as the water drains away.
Outside, his wife, Mrs Verloc, is trying to deal with a crowd of irate customers who want their money back. One of the gentlemen, Ted, from the neighbouring fruit and veg stall intervenes and tries to explain providence to the crowd. The power soon comes back on and it seems all of London found the experience a bit of a laugh - much to the chagrin of the organisers of this minor act of terrorism.
Ted, we discover, is actually an undercover policeman who is keeping an eye on Mr Verloc.
The next day, Verloc is pursued to the Zoo where he is witnessed talking to a foreign man. They discuss the forthcoming Lord Mayor's Show and the plans they have to create havoc. Verloc follows some instructions and meets a man known as the professor who makes bombs as a sideline to his bird shop. Verloc organises for the bomb to be delivered to his home on Saturday along with some birds for his wife's younger brother, Stevie. Meanwhile, Ted takes Mrs Verloc and Stevie out for lunch as his feelings for her grow stronger.
On the Friday before the Lord Mayor's show, Ted sneaks into the back of the cinema in order to eavesdrop on Mr Verloc and his gang of terrorists, he is caught by one of them and through a bluff (and with Stevie's innocent yet handy assistance) is allowed to leave. However, he was recognised by one of the crooks for who he really is.
On the big day, Verloc receives the bomb and the birds from the Professor but due to the constant presence of Ted, he arranges for Stevie to take the bomb (disguised in a package) along with some cinematic reels for a movie entitled 'Bartholomew the Strangler' with specific instructions to leave the parcel at Piccadilly by 1:30. The bomb is due to go off at 1:45.
Sadly, on his journey, Stevie is waylaid by various obstacles including a street-seller who tries to use Stevie as a guinea-pig for his toothpaste and hair oils and then by policemen who are holding back the crowds at the Lord Mayor's parade. Having lost time, Stevie has to catch a bus, despite the rules of not carrying flammable items (the celluloid film) on public transport. He never makes it to Piccadilly and the bus and all it's passengers are blown to smithereens - the film tins are discovered in the wreckage by Ted and he pieces it all together. Eventually, Mrs Verloc learns of her brother's fate and goes into immediate shock. She faints, but imagines Stevie's face when she comes 'round. Confused, bewlidered and still in shock, she does not know how to deal with the news.
Later, at dinner, she too knows all the facts and her diabolical husband is callous and rabbits on about the dinner not being to his satisfaction.
He is trying to blame Ted for Stevie's death and attempting yo justify his actions. Mrs Verloc is still in shock and almost losing her cool. She eyes the carving knife and it scares her. Mr Verloc gets up and approaches her. They both grab for it, but she is faster and the stabbing is fatal.
Ted discovers her and the corpse - he takes her outside to calm her and even suggests they go away together in order to save her. Meanwhile, the Professor, urged by his own wife, has returned to the cinema and the rooms of Verloc in order to retrieve the birdcage as it provides evidence of his involvement. Unfortunately for him, the police have the place surrounded and in an act of sheer desperation, he detonates a second bomb to evade capture - thus destroying the Verloc's home and business, but also any evidence which may have sent Mrs Verloc to prison.
Ted and Mrs Verloc slink off into the gathering crowd together.
The End.

Great Lines
There are cracking bits of dialogue throughout the movie, but these two moments spoken by incidental members of the public at the zoo aquarium had me grinning:

Kid: (looking at the fish with his father) "What's them bubbles dad? Have the fish got hiccoughs?"
Dad: "You'd have hiccoughs if you had to live off ants' eggs!"


Teen boy (played by Charles Hawtry!): "...after laying a million eggs, the female oyster changes her sex."
His 'gal': "I don't blame 'er!"

The opening vision of a dictionary definition is one to make me smirk as I have always mocked teen essays which begin with "The Oxford English Dictionary defines (xyz) as..." due to its lack of originality and virtual omnipresence within the realm of scholars. Bless.
The lead up to Stevie's death is tense and unnerving with beautiful cutting between Stevie's journey and the various time-pieces indicating his ever-decreasing existence.
My favourite scene has to be when Mr and Mrs Verloc are at the dinner table post-tragedy and he creeps around the table with his squeaky shoes before they both grab for the carving knife. It's taut and edgy. After she has killed him, the corpse's feet lie in the foreground as the forlorn widow and killer slumps off into the background. Classy.
The fact that Mrs Verloc gets away with murder (despite being utterly justified in my mind) is one which the British studios seem quite happy to live with - less can be said for Hollywood in a few years' time.
This is not the only time a pair of caged birds will act as a portent for disaster... wait until 1963!

My Verdict
A tense and well-timed story told in a mere 75 minutes with pitch-perfect performances all 'round. I think it deserves a 8/10

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