Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Hitchcock’s suspense and terrorism in ‘Sabotage’

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Movie review Part II

Here’s a link to Part I:    https://baconsmysteries.com/?s=at+terrorism

Halfway through Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 suspense film Sabotage, the villain, Karl Verloc, played by Oscar Homolka, is contemplating the bombing of London’s busy Piccadilly Circus intersection with untold loss of life. 

At the same time, undercover police sergeant Ted Spencer, played by John Loder, is buying lunch for Mrs. Verloc  (Sylvia Sidney) and her school-age brother who lives with the Verlocs.  She’s telling Spencer what a peach of a guy her husband is.  Unaware of her husband’s part-time job as a terrorist, she says he has been very kind to her and her brother. “Very kind” sounds like the way you’d describe a benevolent aunt.

John Loder, as Sgt. Spencer, chats up Mrs. Verloc, Sylvia Sidney.

“He’s the quietest, most harmless, home-loving person,” she says.

Her description is slightly at odds with Homolka’s Verloc whose heavy-browed, malevolent facial expressions and short temper seem to dominate their home, an apartment at the rear of the theatre Verloc operates.

When the movie was filmed, Homolka was 38, Sidney 26, although they seem even farther apart, Homolka’s Austrian accent adding to his menace, especially in pre-war England.

The title was changed from ‘Sabotage’ when the film was released in the US.

Later while Spencer watches the theater from his one-man command post in a street-front vegetable stand, he sees several suspicious characters enter, not to see a film, but to visit Verloc. The sergeant snoops inside the theater  and we’re given a behind-the-movie-screen view.  But in his awkward eavesdropping  Spencer is exposed as a cop, scaring off Verloc’s potential accomplices.

Verloc confers with the next-door greengrocer who admits to permitting the detective to use his shop for surveillance. Verloc asks the store owner if he knows what the police are looking for.

“You must have been showing some funny sort of films, I daresay,” the greengrocer tells Verloc. “You know, perhaps a bit too hot.”

Deserted by his fellow saboteurs, Verloc realizes he must now transport the bomb himself.  When the bomb is delivered to Verloc at the theater the next day in a brown paper parcel, an attached note tells  him it’s  set to explode at 1:45 p.m. that afternoon.

The last thirty five minutes of the film is a dash to the end while putting the leading characters at peril. It includes the most suspenseful ten minutes of this film and perhaps of any Hitchcock movie. Writing on TurnerClassicMovies.com, Jeff Stafford calls the scenes “a visual tour-de-force, employing montage to powerful effect and presenting a breathtaking example of Hitchcock’s emerging technique.”

Stafford also questions whether the climax “blurs the line between the director’s typical use of suspense versus shock.”

I think it combines both elements. It’s an amazing sequence. But Hitchcock has more in store besides the anxious ten minutes, and the ending is a mixture of noir bleakness with hope for a little Hollywood-style happiness.

Oscar Homolka, husband, movie theatre operator, terrorist

According to Stafford, Hitchcock expected Robert Donat and Peter Lorre to be the male leads, but wound up settling for Loder and Homolka. Although Lorre was a master of disreputable and downright evil characters, Homolka’s Verloc is sufficiently ominous. Loder overplays his undercover role becoming a jolly, garrulous and inquisitive vegetable vendor but partially redeems himself with a passing moment of despair late in the film. Donat would have been ideal for the part, and in fact, had just completed The 39 Steps for Hitchcock the year before.

But I’m a fan of Donat and The 39 Steps.  I think it’s the best of Hitchcock’s early works. I’m a sucker for the scenes of Donat handcuffed to co-star Madeleine Carroll as they check into a country inn posing as newlyweds to escape foreign spies.

But I digress.

Possibly of greater interest to film buffs, Sabotage is packed with suspense and offers a blueprint for many Hitchcock films to come.  It also reminds us that terrorist bombs are not a 21st century creation.   The film receives a 100% rating from 11 critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.1 rating on IMDB.com.

The film is available for streaming on Amazon Prime for $1.99 or $3.99 for an HD version.  It’s not available on Netflix, but no surprise.  I’m not sure they understand the concept of noir. A free, although slightly grainy version of Sabotage is available from BjgTjme Free Movies (correct spelling) via YouTube.

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Free version of Sabotage:  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbwC71cglyI

Jeff Stafford’s article on Tuner Classic Movies:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbwC71cglyI

Dark Ride Deception novel beats Disney to new ride

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“Dark Ride Deception,” published in September, describes a technology that gives visitors a virtual reality experience—without goggles.  The Walt Disney Company received a patent for such technology three months later.

According to The Los Angeles Daily News, the Walt Disney Company was granted a patent on Dec. 28 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a technology that enables users to experience a 3D world without glasses, goggles or digital devices.

“Dark Ride Deception,” describes an advanced technology that is stolen from Nostalgia City, an Arizona theme park. The stolen secrets allow park guests to experience virtual reality without goggles.

VR Goggles no longer needed?

The Disney technology, according to the Daily News story, is called a Virtual World Simulator.  The stolen Nostalgia City tech is called the Perception Deception Effect.

Since my first Nostalgia City novel I’ve been following the development of amusement park attractions.  I never read anything about this new Disney technology, however; but it’s the next logical step in virtual reality.  Inventing the Perception Deception Effect just made sense.

In the book, a brilliant theme park engineer disappears, along with details of his ground-breaking technology—before the plans can be patented. Nostalgia City employee and ex-cop, Lyle Deming, is tasked with finding the missing engineer and recovering the secrets.

Critical details of the Perception Deception Effect are known only to the missing engineer, Tom Wyrick.  Deming speculates that Wyrick was either kidnapped or killed to obtain the secrets or that he plans to sell his inventions to the highest bidder.

“What’s he going to do,” Deming asks, “start his own theme park?”

When I wrote the book, I thought theme park rides needed to be bumped to a higher technological level.  Apparently, so did Disney.

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Looking for the second half of Hitchcock’s Sabotage?

The first half of my review of the Hitchcock film had a bunch of words unnecessarily underlined in the email version. Distracting.  It doesn’t show up in the WordPress editor or in the web version of the story.

The second half of the review will be published soon.  And it will be linked to the online version of the first half. Stay tuned.

Hitchcock’s ‘Sabotage’ – A look back at terrorism

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Movie review Part I

Alfred Hitchcock preferred suspense to shock. Shock, he said, was a bomb going off killing people yet producing only a few moments of surprise for an audience. But, he said, tell the audience that a bomb was going to go off and they would be held in suspense for as long as the film director pleased.

Creating suspense, according to Hitchcock, was letting the audience know more than the protagonists know. In his 1936 film, Sabotage, he does that with nail-biting precision.  Despite its age and the technological limitations of film in the mid-1930s, the movie still retains the admiration of critics and Hitchcock fans. More about that later after a look at the plot.

The Verlocs, Oscar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney. A happy couple?

Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka) runs a small movie house in London. He lives in an apartment at the rear of the theater with his wife (Sylvia Sidney) and her school-age brother.  Verloc is a terrorist, a saboteur.

Before he sabotages power generators throwing London into temporary darkness at the beginning of the film, Verloc is already under police surveillance. Detective Sergeant Ted Spencer (John Loder) poses as a clerk in a greengrocer next to the theater. With a winning smile he chats up Mrs. Verloc in front of the theater during the blackout.  Amid the confusion , Spencer sees Verloc return to the theater, something Verloc later denies, claiming he was home all afternoon.

Later that evening, Spencer visits Scotland Yard and his boss tells him to find out whatever he can about Verloc as the government has become concerned.

“Now listen, Spencer, the Home Office have been on, and they’re scared something worse than tonight’s job may happen.”

“What’s the idea, sir? What’s the point of all this wrecking?”

“Making trouble at home to take our minds off what’s going on abroad.  Same as in a crowd. One man treads on your toe. While you’re arguing with him his pal picks your pocket.”

The next day Verloc meets a shadowy figure in an aquarium. As the two men stand in the dark, staring at fish tanks, Verloc’s contact tells him the blackout produced only laughs from Londoners. He tells him he will not be paid until he accomplishes a job that will put the fear of death in people, not make them  laugh.

The title was changed from ‘Sabotage’ when the film was released in the US.

“I once read a sign in Piccadilly Circus calling it the center of the world,” the stranger says.  “I think you’d better pay a visit there in a couple of days’ time, and leave a small parcel in the cloakroom at the underground station.”

Verloc says he won’t be involved in deaths so his contact urges him to get help from friends. The contact then tells Verloc to visit a bomb maker.  “He’s a very nice old gentlemen, and he makes lovely fireworks.”

As the stranger leaves, we get a close-up of Verloc, his lower lip slightly extended as he peers out from below the shadow of his hat brim. He stares into an aquarium tank and instead of seeing fish, he imagines the bustling streets of Piccadilly Circus with buildings collapsing as if they were melting into a pit. The vision has an obvious effect on him as I suspect this early cinematic special effect had on audiences 86 years ago. 

Next time, a non-spoiler discussion of the film’s jolting climax and information on where you can find the movie today.

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