Hitchcock is so weird. His body of work is impressive. His influence undeniable but boy is it difficult to discuss his early work without becoming repetitive. Sabotage feels familiar and not just because it’s title is extremely similar to Hitchcock’s other film Saboteur. If you’ve seen both you won’t confuse them. Sabotage is about a secret cabal of German terrorists conspiring to detonate a bomb in London. Whereas Saboteur is about a secret cabal of extremely wealthy people conspiring to detonate a bomb in the midst of WWII era New York. They couldn’t be less alike and certainly aren’t recycled ideas.
I’ve watched a handful of interviews and special features about Hitchcock and when he discusses Sabotage it’s always with regret. He seems to believe he was wrong to let the bomb explode after successfully building tension around the if and when it would detonate. His argument is, the audience needs relief. If you’re going to thrill and scare people then you must give them the relief of not letting the bomb actually go off. Throw it out a window to harmlessly detonate or something. They’re paying to be scared not mortified.
There are countless films that don’t follow Hitchcock’s advice. If you want films with depressing endings and no relief look no further than the films of Ari Aster, Roman Polanski or… Alfred Hitchcock? Is there really much relief in The Birds, or Vertigo? Maybe I just don’t understand his reasoning for regretting the bomb detonation in Sabotage. If Stevie doesn’t explode while carrying Mr. Verloc’s bomb do we lose the scene where Mrs. Verloc contemplates vengefully murdering her husband? Does anything else in the movie matter if Stevie doesn’t die?
Hitchcock’s maturation as a visionary artist is observable as his career progresses. He’s genius is on clear display in films like The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur but none of those crack his ‘Known Four’ on IMDB.com, you know, the top four movies associated with the artist according to an unknown algorithm. At this point in time IMDB.com says he’s most closely associated with Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Rope the latter being the only one of the four made in the 1940s. Of those I’ve only seen Vertigo, but that’s the point of all this isn’t it, to see the movies I’ve never seen. Part of the reason I keep trudging through these lesser know Hitchcockian films is to better understand the director through his work. At this point, I’m looking forward to the world class artist I’m promised he becomes in the late 50’s and early 60’s. But I’ve got a lot more trudging to do before then.
I need to do research into Hitchcock’s use of animals in this picture. Early in the film Mr. Verloc meets a contact in an aquarium where two very large green sea turtles are kept in a tank built for goldfish. They paddle helplessly in a tank twice their size as the two men exchange information pertinent to the plot. Pardon me while I’m distracted by real animal abuse. If that abuse is too real for you, don’t worry there’s fictional animal injury coming soon. A Jack Russell Terrier puppy is sitting next to Stevie when the bomb explodes on a London bus. I assume the puppy’s included to make their mutual deaths even more upsetting to the audiences. After all, there’s only one thing worse than an exploding child. BOOM. An exploding child with a puppy. And lastly the two small birds Mr. Verloc gives Stevie as a gift before he toddles off to die precede their brethren in The Birds. Hitchcock is so weird.