Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sabotage (1936)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Charles Bennett, Ian Hay, Helen Simpson, E.V.H. Emmett; based on The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
Photography: Bernard Knowles
Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder

Hitchcock's work in the '30s, most of it based in the UK, often strikes me as a bit stodgy, if not outright soporific. But I put most of that off on the film technology of the time, particularly the studio-centered requirements of the early sound era for static cameras. Setting that aside, this one seems remarkably modern, its focus on mysterious agents with German accents who infiltrate the UK for purposes of "sabotage" standing in surprisingly well for today's ultra-conservative Islamist agents who infiltrate the U.S. for purposes of "terrorism." (The dictionary definition that opens the movie could apply as well to either term.) More surprising perhaps are its refreshing elements of heartlessness—you will see a bomb handed off for delivery to a young boy who encounters all kinds of nice people along the way, including a friendly street salesman, a kindly woman with a devilish cute puppeh, not to mention a whole freaking parade, even as the clock ticks toward the fatal hour. That's pure Hitchcock. The whole production is beautiful, murky black and white set in high-relief contrast, shot frequently from unexpected angles. If the proceedings here grow occasionally clunky, they are as often enlivened by Hitchcock's burgeoning sensibility, which we would come to know so well in subsequent decades after he had relocated to the U.S.

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