Review of Blackmail (1929)

12 Jun

Blackmail (1929) is a British thriller/crime/drama film, based on the play of the same name by Charles Benett.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Family Plot (1976), The Ring (1927)).

Written by Alfred Hitchcock (Juno and the Paycock (1930), Champagne (1928)) and Benn W. Levy (Waterloo Bridge (1931), The Old Dark House (1932)).

Starring: Anny Ondra, Charles Paton, Sara Allgood, John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Cyril Ritchard, Harvey Braban and others.

So here’s the first British “true” talkie, made by Alfred Hitchcock. You can feel that the silent film era hasn’t yet passed, but Hitchcock is realising the potential of people actually talking in movies.

It starts off with a long sequence, which is silent. Hey, come people enjoy one of the first talkies, yet no one is talking. Oh, ok, I don’t mind a good silent movie. No, it’s not a silent movie, because there are no intertitle cards. Well, this is confusing. Then like 10 minutes in, there’s suddenly dialogue, what a pleasant surprise.

The movie stars the very charismatic Anny Ondra, her acting is really good, considering it was the time actors had to transition from the very pantomime acting of silent cinema to talkies. Her voice was „dubbed” over by a British woman off-screen, because she had a thick accent. Which is odd, since there’s a clip on YouTube, where Hitchcock is teasing her and it didn’t sound so bad to me.

There’s a really cool long continuous shot, where characters are walking up multiple staircases and the camera follows vertically from the point of view of a wall, which is obviously filmed on a built set, but it doesn’t make it less cool.

The whole thing is that Ondra’s character goes home with some artist she met and when they get to his apartment he attempts to rape her. Who said 20’s was an innocent time? She stabs him with a knife and leaves, as you might imagine, the rest of the movie is Ondra tortured by guilt, fear and blackmail (yes, there’s a reason the movie is called that).

I learned that a brick to the head is a nice old British way of killing a person, but knives are a big ‘no-no’.  There’s a clever scene using the newfound possibilities of sound cinema. A woman keeps talking, but to our heroine only the word „knife” is audible and the rest is just murmur.

You can already see that Hitchcock has a knack for thrillers and there’s even an interesting foot-chase, a bit lacking in action, but very interesting to see and especially in comparison to how he later perfected his use of suspenseful action.  It’s a short and well paced movie, but it does feel like an overlong Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode.

A really peculiar thing is how the murder that the whole movie revolves around is the most innocent crime, yet it all ends kind of ironic and no one involved is innocent.

Overall, it’s a decent little movie, but really, except for the first British talkie title (which is debatable), it has no significant place in cinema history. Hitchcock enthusiast could give it a chance, otherwise – skip it. Not recommended.

“Hey, you know what I just thought?”
“No, what?”
“What if years from now people watching this movie won’t even notice us, the main heroes, and will just look at our director over there.”
“Don’t be silly, no one cares about that fat fuck.”

One Response to “Review of Blackmail (1929)”

  1. Aloha Mister Hand June 13, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    Nice, never heard of this one!

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