Not literally, in person, alas, but via the big screen in a small town.In July 1937, MM and MF had a sudden yearning ‘to hear the curlews calling again above Blaen-hafren.’ They abandoned plans to camp in Herefordshire, hired a car with driver Mr Norris and headed again for Lanidloes, where they checked in at the Trewythen Arms. Then the evening:
After dinner we actually went next door to a Cinema show Sabotage. Oh but it was funny! the confusion, the unreality in ‘real’ scenery, the hideous voices, the more hideous close-ups.
In one scene we see two gentlemen ‘conspiring’ in front of a tank at the former Westminster Aquarium where a turtle is showing off quite nicely. I was beginning to enjoy the turtle when we were switched off to an interior with a young lady with the American puffy cheeks and a painful smile mending big toy sailing-boat with a lad looking on. To them enters a thickset man with nerves, apparently her husband who I believe has been ordered by the wicked Bolshevist of the Aquarium to bomb something or somebody. Then switch off to some underground machinery – then to a shabby parlour where conspirators are conspiring Scotland Yard next and a handsome young detective. And so on. Then a lunch party between the Detective and the Unhappy Wife who I suppose is being pumped about her husband’s actions; but all the voices are so rauquous [sic] and unnatural that one doesn’t catch what is said – and it doesn’t matter. Then we have London streets and the nervous Conspirator being tracked by the handsome Detective; then the conspirators parlour and a knock at the door and all the folk melt away except the nervous man – Another switch to something or other. Then a close-up of a clock bomb with the hands set to 2.15. Then the Nervous man’s home & he gives a parcel to the Lad (wife’s young brother) to leave in the cloakroom at Piccadilly Circus (we somehow gather there is a big function and procession to come off to fit in with the bomb). Then the boy & parcel lounge thro’ different comic scenes and at last find themselves in an omnibus.
Next we have a close-up of the bomb with the hands pointing to 2.13, and I get very nervous and put my hands to my ears and MF laughs - There are other muddly scenes and then the omnibus again and a puff and presumably the boy and the bus etc are blown up. By this time the Unhappy Wife and the Handsome Detective are finding affinities and he wants to “spare the woman”. The great scene is at her house where she is unwillingly preparing a meal for her husband, obviously distracted by news of an explosion and the death of Young Brother. We have a close-up of her hands cutting bread with a sharp carver & then after various switchings they stand opposite each other and presumably she jabs him. It was all so quick I didn’t see this but Mr Norris said he saw the knife in his stomach. Then scenes in which the lady is anxious to go to prison but the Detective (with sundry disgusting close-ups of nasty floppy faces kissing) informs her that no passports are needed to go over to Boulogne (aren’t they?) and he is going to take her away, and all is well – God Save the King.
It was as incoherent and ever sillier than the Waltzes from Vienna, with Queen Victoria dancing about the stage, that I saw with Cousin in London the other day. Just imagine the ingenuity of this invention being used to turn out stuff of this sort. However MF and I got a good laugh now and then. And so to bed.
Born in 1862, MM was 75 when she watched Sabotage, so perhaps unsurprisingly disconcerted by jump-cuts (‘switchings’) and barely-glimpsed violence. But, however selective, her frame-by-frame summary is somewhat extraordinary and a tribute surely to Hitchcock’s cinematic power.