Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Hitchcock’

My Classic Movie Pick: Sabotage, for the Hitchcock in Halloween Blogathon

I have  enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock’s films and was delighted to learn about Backlots tribute to the director in Hitchcock for Halloween Blogathon.   I decided to focus on the 1936 film, Sabotage, as I appreciate much of Hitchcock’s earlier films, the films he made while still living in England, before Hollywood came calling.Alfred Hitchcock on Halloween 2013

Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel, The Secret Agent, which concerns a spy, his anarchist comrades, and their terrorist acts,  Hitchcock took the contents of the novel and moved it from the 1880s to 1936.   The film revolves around 4 characters:  Karl Verloc, his wife, Mrs. Verloc, Stevie, the teenage brother of Mrs. Verloc, and Sgt. Ted Spencer, from Scotland Yard.  While not exactly a “horror” movie, it is suspenseful and takes a look at human evil, with the wanton destruction of innocents by terrorist acts. As I watched the film for the second time, it struck me that the three main adult characters all have secrets.  Hitchcock's Sabotage

Karl Verloc(Oscar Homolka) is a seemingly mild-mannered movie theatre owner, an immigrant to London, considered nice by all of his neighbors and associates.  We find out early on that he is not as he seems, that he is caught up in an anarchist group, doing deeds of sabotage in the city for money.  We aren’t sure if money is his main reason for doing these evil acts for the group or if there is more behind his motives.  Homolka, who I had only known previously for his turn in 1948’s I Remember Mama, as blustery Uncle Chris, is much younger in this 1936 movie.  He gives a great performance as a conflicted man, nice on the outside but inside, full of darkness, and justifications for his evil acts.

Verloc pleased that his act caused a London blackout.

Verloc pleased that his act caused a London blackout.

The luminous Sylvia Sydney plays Mrs. Verloc.  She reveals that she married Verloc when they lived in America, not for love but for security and gratefulness as Verloc agreed to let her younger brother, Stevie, live with them.  We don’t know why she has the sole care of her brother and can only assume that her parents are deceased and that she is Stevie’s only living relative.  Ms. Sydney’s large eyes grab the audience in her gaze  and she uses them masterfully to express and emote; confusion, bewilderment, and shock.  An alternate title for the film was A Woman Alone which put more of the plot on Mrs. Verloc’s shoulders, but I like the Sabotage title better.  To me, that title encompasses all of the characters much better.     I did read in my research that Sydney didn’t enjoy working with Hitchcock so this was their only collaboration.

The Luminous Sylvia Sydney as Mrs. Verloc.

The Luminous Sylvia Sydney as Mrs. Verloc.

Stevie(Desmond Teeter) is perfect as the happy-go-lucky, but awkward teen brother of Mrs. Verloc.  With his mop of unruly, wavy hair, his gangly build, he’s the perfect picture of teenage boyhood.  Eager to please his sister and her husband,  happy with his lot in life as far as we can tell, what happens to him is utterly heartbreaking.

Stevie doesn't know what he is delivering!!

Stevie doesn’t know what he is delivering!!

Sgt. Ted Spencer(John Loder) is undercover, working as an assistant at a greengrocer’s shop nextdoor to Verloc’s movie theatre.  Scotland Yard, Spencer’s employer, has gotten hints about an ararchist group that Verloc possibly is a  member of.  Spencer has been put at the greengrocer’s shop in order to keep tabs on Verloc and to ingratiate himself with the family.  What he hasn’t counted on was a growing attraction to Mrs. Verloc, whom he wants to try and protect at all costs in case it is proven true that her husband is an anarchist and terrorist.

Sgt. Spencer, undercover, takes Mrs. Verloc and Stevie out to lunch.

Sgt. Spencer, undercover, takes Mrs. Verloc and Stevie out to lunch.

I looked for HItchcock’s cameo shot and missed it.  There are a lot of crowd scenes so I am assuming he is in one of those.  Cinematically, what caught my eye were:  the opening shot of a page from a dictionary showing the definition of the word Sabotage,  a light bulb filmed up close, showing its brightness, then a cut to London at night, all lit up, and its citizens happily moving here and there to whatever interests are theirs for the evening,  another quick shot of that lighbulb, only now it’s dimming and then goes out, followed by a second shot of London, of Big Ben, all going dark.  Instead of hysteria, the plucky Londoners find candles, matches, torches(flashlights for us Yanks) and happily continue on their way.  Then there is  another quick shot of men at a power plant examining machinery and they find sand had been put into it, “Sabotage!”, one of the men exclaims.    Verloc arriving home, sneaking in so his wife, running the ticket booth won’t see him.  He washes off his hands in the bathroom sink and we see sand left behind in the sink, and we know, he is the one who commited the sabotage at the power plant.  Another scene that caught my eye was when Verloc has met his anarchist contact at London’s Zoo to find out about the next terrorist job.  He has been ordered to deliver a bomb and told who to get the bomb from.   After the anarchist has left the Zoo’s aquarium  where this latest plan was discussed, Verloc stares at a tank of fish and before his eyes it turns into a group of London buildings that collapse in an explosion, and then this imaginary scene turns back into the fishes swimming in a tank.   Lastly, there is the building of suspense as Stevie has been asked by his brother-in-law to unknowingly take a part in the terrorist act, with quick shots of Stevie traveling to a destination to make a 1:30 pm delivery,  getting waylaid on his journey by traffic jams, a parade, a street vendor, and cuts to various clocks showing the time.   Shots of Stevie, to a clock, and back and forth builds the tension and suspense to a fever pitch.  Then the movie has a bit of a calm before the final storm, when Mrs. Verloc realizes that is up to her to stop her husband.  With the arrival of Scotland Yard, another anarchist, and Sgt. Spencer, the films ends quite differently than Conrad’s novel does.  Hitchcock's poster 2

Sabotage is shown now and then on Turner Classic Movies, it is available to purchase or view on instant rent at,  and it is also available to see via Netflix and it’s also on Hulu.  I highly recommend it for the Hitchcock movie fan in your life and it would make a great addition to their movie collection if they don’t have it already!

For a look at an great Hitchcock film prior to his output in Hollywood, look for Sabotage!

Here is a movie poster showing the alternate title.

Here is a movie poster showing the alternate title.


Classic Movie Suggestions for New Year’s Eve

The Lady Vanishes (1938 film)

The Lady Vanishes (1938 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a Classic Movie fan.   I drive my family a bit nuts due to our dvr list being full of old movies’ titles.  Turner Classic Movies is my favorite channel, and I am often watching one of the movies from that channel and not watching network tv.   Our family usually stays home on New Year’s Eve, munching on favorite snacks,  and watching movies.  With all of this in mind, I thought I’d make some Classic Movie suggestions for New Year’s Eve viewing, movies that I have seen and highly recommend.

If you like a good mystery, with a bit of comedy mixed in and espionage, than The Lady Vanishes is for you.  It was one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest hits in England, and he made this movie in 1938.  The movie stars Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, and Dame May Whitty, as the vanishing lady of the movie’s title.  Most of the action takes place aboard a train  as a group of British travelers are winding their way across continental Europe in order to get to a port city in France to then take a boat back to England.  Margaret Lockwood’s character is a young, rich socialite, who befriends Dame May Whitty’s character.  Upon awakening after a nap, Lockwood goes about the train to find Whitty, and she is not there, she has vanished!  No one on the train believes her that the elderly lady was on the train.  Michael Redgrave, playing a handsome music professor, agrees to help Lockwood search the train to find the missing elderly lady.  This movie was one of Hitchcock’s last British movies before he came to America and Hollywood.  In fact, this movie did so well at the British box office, that it helped Hitchcock prove to American movie studios that he knew how to make successful movies and he was able to make  a nice, profitable deal with MGM, who he made his first American movie with.

My next movie suggestion would be for an audience of teens and adults to experience the great character study that it contains. The movie is 12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet.  The movie stars Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Martin Balsam, and John Fiedler( great character actor known for his light and high-pitched voice.  He was the voice of Piglet in many Winnie the Pooh movies and one of the regular patients of Bob Newhart’s Dr. Hartley on the Bob Newhart tv show.)

Publicity photograph of Henry Fonda.

Publicity photograph of Henry Fonda. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The plot is very straightforward and pulls no punches.  A teen has been on trial for murder.  The action of the movie takes place in the jury’s deliberation room.  All but one of the jurors thinks the teen committed the murder and it is up to that one juror, Henry Fonda, to carefully relook at all of the evidence with his fellow jurors, and to see if it is possible  that the teen is innocent.  The movie is riveting,  and we also get to know each juror and what makes him tick, why some of the jurors are eager to just get a verdict in and leave so they can get on with their weekend plans.  Jurors and their prejudices are also scrutinized by Fonda and one another.   The movie is tense, dramatic, well-acted, and makes one look inward; how would we act if we were on a jury, deciding upon a life and death situation?

For an exciting family adventure, one cannot go wrong with a Disney movie and one of my favorites is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  The famous novel was written by Jules Verne and Walt Disney decided to make a movie based upon this popular book.  The movie appeared to American audiences in 1954, and it starred Kirk Douglas(who sings in the movie, and not too badly!), James Mason, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre.

Lukas and Lorre are scientists who have been hired by the U.S. Government to try and find out what is causing the mysterious sinkings of commerical ships on the high seas.  Kirk Douglas plays a sailor, Ned, who agrees to go along on the investigation.  The trio soon discovers that a technologically  advanced submarine, the Nautilus,

Captain Nemo

Captain Nemo (Photo credit: gnews pics)

Captain Nemo's Office

Captain Nemo’s Office (Photo credit: Peter E. Lee)

and a strange and engimatic Captain Nemo, played by James Mason, are responsible for the sinkings.  With Captain Nemo’s dire warnings about the environment, the movie doesn’t seem that dated, and what more can one ask for then an epic submarine vs. giant squid battle!

My last movie recommendation is the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  It is a favorite at our house, even our menfolk enjoy the humor in it, and the dance numbers and songs don’t make them cringe!  It was made by MGM in 1954, directed by Stanley Dolen, choreographed by Michael Kidd, and it starred Jane Powell as Milly and Howard Keel as Adam Pontipee.  Adam is the oldest of 7 brothers.  He decides on his next visit to town, when he buys supplies, that he’ll also get himself a wife.  He wants a helpmate who will cook and clean and sew, a woman who is pretty, but who can also work hard.  He finds that wife in Milly, a local girl who works in the town’s restaurant.  Milly agrees to marry Adam, but she is angered with him when they arrive at Adam’s cabin and find that his 6 brothers live there too.  The 6 are a mess-they’re rude, dirty, and after she gets over her initial shock,

Cover of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers...

Cover of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Milly takes on the task of turning these 6 new brothers-in-law into gentlemen.  She also impresses on them how to properly court a girl.  At a local barn raising, potluck and dance, the 6 brothers set their sights on 6 ladies from the town, who are unfortunately seeing 6 men from the town.  Adam, seeing his brothers moping around the cabin as winter sets in, tells them about a story written down by Plutarch, how some Roman Soldiers got wives from the Sabine Women.  The brothers take Adam’s advice  and hilarity ensues.  An interesting side note is that at the same time Seven Brides was in production, MGM was pouring more money and time into another musical, Brigadoon.  The studio fully expected Brigadoon to be a box office smash and to their surprise, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was the smash hit, and Brigadoon didn’t fare as well at the box office.   The roles of the brides and brothers were mostly filled by dancers, but Julie Newmar-pre Cat Woman days, and Russ Tamblyn-before he played Riff in the movie West Side Story, are a bride and brother you might recognize.   For a fun, toe-tapping way to welcome in the New Year, don’t overlook this gem!