The Times (07/Dec/1936) - New Films in London: "Sabotage"
(c) The Times (07/Dec/1936)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, London Underground, Oskar Homolka, Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), Sylvia Sidney, W. Somerset Maugham
NEW FILMS IN LONDON
Herr Oscar Homolka, whose two appearances in this country — on the stage with Miss Flora Robson in Close Quarters and on the screen as Kruger in Rhodes of Africa — fully supported the reputation he had gained abroad, is to be seen this week at the Tivoli in Sabotage, a film version, of Conrad's novel "The Secret Agent." At the Regal there is an adaptation of Mr. Somerset Maugham's play The Tenth Man, and at the Empire Laurel and Hardy return in a full-length farce based on a short story by W. W. Jacobs.
Sabotage — In all the films Mr. Alfred Hitchcock has made he has always shown a willingness to lay most of his cards on the table at the outset. In this very free adaptation of Conrad's novel, the first few feet let us into the secret of the film's intentions. The lights of London go out, sabotage is whispered, sand is found at the power station, and Verloc (Herr Oscar Komolka) is seen washing his hands in the little East End cinema run by himself and his wife (Miss Sylvia Sidney). Within another few moments it is made clear that his wife looks upon him as a harmless and amiable person; clear that the greengrocer's assistant next door to the cinema is a detective; and clear that Verloc will undertake the task of leaving a high explosive bomb in an underground station on Lord Mayor's Day. Everything, therefore, depends on the behaviour of the bomb. Is it to be the means of gathering suspense, of focusing attention on the normal life of London now threatened, or is it to be merely the climax of a conventional and artificial "thriller"? The answer is that Mr. Hitchcock concentrates so much on the building up of an atmosphere of suspense, with typical and rather too frequent expressions of Cockney humour, that he does not realize how much he is thinning that atmosphere by becoming absorbed in the timing and theatrical mechanics of the bomb. He neglects the character of Verloc which Conrad made so subtle and contradictory. Verloc, because the cinema is watched, hands the parcel containing the bomb to his brother-in-law, a boy of 12. The boy does not know what the parcel contains, but he is told that it must be delivered by 1.45. The audience knows that that is the time fixed for the bomb to go off, and Mr. Hitchcock depends entirely for the excitement of the boy's journey by omnibus, with the constant delays through the congestion of traffic, upon the relationship between the clocks seen on the route and the parcel the boy is carrying. At 1.45 the boy and the bomb are still on the omnibus, and at that precise moment the omnibus and all its occupants cease to exist. With the explosion the film also comes to an end, except for one brilliant moment when Verloc faces his wife across the table on which there lies a carving knife. Their eyes meet, and in Verloc's there is the certain knowledge of his own fate. The script does not allow Herr Homolka to develop his portrait of Verloc as fully as one would have liked, but within the limits imposed upon him his acting is remarkable in its power and restraint.