Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Sabotage (1936), Part 2

by Brent Reid

Home video releases and remakes

  • One of the Master of Suspense’s best and most shocking British films
  • There are many fine official releases doing this superb work full justice
  • Beware the countless bootlegs: they’ll kill your enjoyment stone dead
  • Joseph Conrad’s source novel has seen dozens of remakes in every media
  • Many are now lost or unavailable; here’s a full rundown of those that aren’t

Note: this is one of 100-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Part 1: Production

Oskar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney in Sabotage (1936, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Oskar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney, caught between disasters


Home video releases

Sabotage aka The Woman Alone (1936, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US insert poster

US insert poster adapted for the sleeve of Network’s BD, the best available home video version.

There are some lovely looking releases of this pithy little gem, which packs an awful lot into its lean 76 minutes. All the early DVDs feature a very clean, clear and steady transfer, scanned from BFI-preserved pre-print materials. But the film got a digital remaster in 2008 which shows a marked improvement with deeper blacks, better greyscale and natural grain, ie detail. Here are all official releases:

Preserved transfer

The US was first to better Sabotage’s early VHS releases via Criterion’s barebones LaserDisc but, though excellent for the time, they had to wait over 20 years for their second physical release. The UK Network DVD has a handful of extras: a short intro by film historian Charles Barr, a slideshow and best of all, an interesting 11-minute “On Location” featurette presented by Robert Powell, star of the 1978 remake of The 39 Steps. The next best PAL option is the German DVD, which is only available as part of a box set and has no extras, save for the ubiquitous “Hitchcock: The Early Years” featurette (1999, 24min), and some image galleries elsewhere in the set. Not present is the 1978 German dub recorded for the film’s TV première.

The French TF1 DVD also has the “Early Years” doc and two non-subbed featurettes by Claude Chabrol and Dominik Möll (both 25min). But its forced French subtitles on the feature’s English track and “Early Years” doc render it unsuitable for most. Subs are optional on the French dub but it’s only present in an anachronistic 5.1 surround remix. After that, the other DVDs are all bare.

The Swedish and Finnish Hitchcock Classic Collections, with four sets of subtitles, are identical bar translated packaging. The latter initially came in a slipcased foldout Digipak but was reissued in 2008 in a thick Amaray keep case. The same discs were also released individually in Norway (Star Media Entertainment) and in a Danish 4-disc set (On Air Video).

Remastered transfer

Those in the US can get the remastered version streaming in HD but there are only two physical HD options for Sabotage at present and both are region B; a compelling reason to own a multi-region set-up. The UK and French BDs share the same beautiful transfer as the US-restricted stream from Criterion; however, with much higher bitrates and lossless audio, they look and sound even better. Even projected on a 106″screen at a seating distance of 10 feet, they’re near flawless. There’s the odd bit of speckling or a momentary light scratch, but nothing more. Overall detail is incredible; now on every viewing, I can’t help but notice the specks of toothpaste on Stevie’s lapels before he has his teeth brushed. They clearly remain from previous takes and weren’t even spotted by those present during filming! Network port over the extras from their earlier DVD while ESC Editions’ only extra is a 14½-minute French-language interview with documentarian Christophe Champclaux. Both have optional subtitles in their respective languages.

Among the remastered DVDs’ extras, the superlative US MGM leads the pack with an exclusive audio commentary by film scholar Leonard J. Leff, author of Hitchcock and Selznick (1987/1999). It also has a short restoration comparison (2½min), Hitchcock/Peter Bogdanovich interview (26 min) and a gallery. Though the latest French DVD from Filmedia has two more French-language featurettes (20 and 27 min), neither are directly related to the film. But at least it has optional French subtitles. Other than that, the rest are pretty much bare but whichever you pick at least they won’t blow up in your face, unlike the countless terrible DVD rip-offs and even bootleg BD-Rs from Spain (Resen) and Germany (Great Movies/WME).

Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood (1998), about, full interviews


Teaser, programme

The invaluable Hitchcock Zone has many DVD screenshots of both licensed and bootleg DVDs, and DVDClassik has the ESC Editions BD and Filmedia DVD. Network BD: Homolka/Dewhurst, Homolka, Homolka #2, Loder, Tester, Loder/Sidney, Hunt/Bevan, Homolka #3, Sidney, Tester #2, Bull, Homolka/Mather, Homolka #4, parcel, Sidney #2, Homolka #5, Loder/Sidney #2.

Soundtrack releases

Speaking of bootlegs, there are many official re-recordings of part and full scores from Hitch’s American films, but sadly not so for his British works. So far, there are only re-recorded excerpts from The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. Nonetheless, there are various Hitchcock film music compilations featuring selections from those and several other British talkies. But they’re almost all bootlegs too, mostly lifted directly from the film soundtracks themselves. The sole fully-licensed exceptions are:

They include a cue from Sabotage composed by the film’s musical director Louis Levy: “Delayed on the Bus”, along with passages from Blackmail, Steps, Young and Innocent and The Lady Vanishes.

On the radio

Though there have been many BBC Radio adaptations of the novel, none are readily available but listen out for occasional rebroadcasts on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Besides, all of them are much more faithful to the downbeat-ended original than Hitch’s version. What we do have is the only true successor to his take, Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play (2000), a light-hearted three-parter also incorporating The Lodger and The 39 Steps. It’s oft-performed (Facebook/Twitter) and there are various trailers and excerpts on YouTube; here’s the Sabotage portion:


The Secret Agent (1992)

There were at least half a dozen TV adaptations of Conrad’s novel between 1957–1981, but sadly none are in circulation. The very survivability of most of them is in question, though at least the 1967 BBC two-parter is still with us. The current earliest available small screen representation is an hour-long 1987 documentary, “Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent“. Part of the Ten Great Writers of the Modern World series, it dramatises many of the novel’s scenes throughout, “combining dramatisation, documentary and criticism, to investigate the world of the novel and Conrad’s view of life as under constant threat of violence and moral disarray.”

The next full length attempt was a 1992 BBC miniseries. It was well received and again a much closer reading of the source text. It’s most notable for starring David Suchet, on a brief sojourn from his regular gig as Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and a future Doctor Who in the shape of Peter Capaldi. So far, it’s only been released in the UK:

The Secret Agent (1996)

Capitol trailer

The only other theatrical film version is much more widely available. A decent effort all around, a host of recognisable faces feature among its fairly international cast. Joining the likes of Bob Hoskins and Christian Bale is a strangely uncredited Robin Williams as the bomb-making Professor. It’s been issued on DVD in the US and various European countries but bizarrely, not in its native UK.

  • US: Fox DVD (2005)
  • Italy: Cecchi Gori DVD (2006, reissued 2013)
  • Germany: EMS DVD (1999)
    • Best Buy Movie DVD (2000)
    • KSM DVD (2007)
  • France: Metropolitan DVD (2013)
  • Spain: Filmax DVD (2008)
    • Divisa DVD (2012)
  • Netherlands: Dutch FilmWorks DVD (2006, alt)
  • Hungary: Jupiter Film DVD (2006)

The screenplay was penned by Christopher Hampton and published in 1997, alongside his adaptation of Conrad’s epic, South America-set novel Nostromo (1904, Gutenberg/Internet Archive). The latter was to be the basis of iconic filmmaker David Lean’s final, never-realised project. Scoring duties for the 1996 film were undertaken by none other than acclaimed composer Philip Glass and his sterling efforts have been issued in the US, UK and Japan on CD and streaming.

The Secret Agent (2016)

The most recent screen adaptation, another TV miniseries, again comes courtesy of the BBC and while it takes many liberties with the novel, remains tonally dark throughout. Verloc is played by Toby Jones, who earlier portrayed Hitch himself in The Girl (2012), while Nottingham-born Vicky McClure is his suffering spouse.

These are all the official releases so far but it’s also been bootlegged on a couple of unlicensed freebie Greek newspaper DVDs in card sleeves. They’re twofers and each is paired with either Beyond the Law (1993) or Total Eclipse (1995).

Teaser | Spanish: teaser, trailerFrench

Part 1: Production

For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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