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Blackmail (1929)

 
Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
"Murder? Little old meeee?"
"Murder? Little old meeee?"

Genre: Thriller Drama (UK)

Starring: Anny Ondra (The Manxman), John Longden (Young And Innocent, The Skin Game)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (North By Northwest; Topaz)

Overview: When a woman steps into the home of a less than gentle man, things get out of hand, but she soon finds there's more in store when a stranger approaches with a proposition.

Performance:

There's two parts to acting: the look and the voice. Some got what it takes for radio but move awkwardly, others are real lookers but their accents make them unemployable. Well the producers of this film decided to turn it into a talkie half way through, which didn't seem like that big an undertaking, however the lovely Anny Ondra had an extremely thick German accent. The synch dubbing made her dialogue look a little too much like a Kung Fu movie, which is a shame because these people did a great job under Hitchcock's direction.
Rating: 8

Cinematography:

The Thriller, as we all know, has a true champion in Alfred Hitchcock, which would make a battle to the death an interesting thing to look at given his girth. His expertise with a tungsten light, however, would allow him to defeat the strongest of opponents with stark shadow and close-ups of dramatic scenes, like a dead man's hand or the flashing marquis of a cocktail mixer as it transforms into a hand holding a knife flashing downward thrusts, signifying the woman's stomach-churning guilt. This is it, Blackmail is where it REALLY starts. You can see the genius floating to the surface. It's close...
Rating: 8

Script:

This is what I mean when I say that some films are sacrificed to the cause. Some stories are sacrificed to too-symbolic experimentalism, some to new technologies in CGI, or like this one, to this new fad that is "the talkie". If they had decided to just not make a talkie this would have been better, but they decided half way through, and with this terrible sound engineering we have the fakest sound of a bird chirping the morning call overwhelming any other sound for a full minute, voiceovers that were obviously added later and the opening scene, though it includes people's lips moving, has no sound. It's awkward!
Rating: 4

Plot:

The story is a simple little three-act: girl goes upstairs with man, girl realizes her mistake all too quickly, then stranger shows up with all too much info. It's a decent story but it was a little too disjointed and I found the climactic ending rather predictable, and not in a "yay, I'm smart cause I solved the mystery" way... see, because it's not a mystery. Right.
Rating: 6

Mood:

For as much as the talking, the crappy-sound-technology cameras, the story and all other bad things interfered with this production, somehow, somewhere, it's all forgivable for the overall veneer that Hitch' slapped on over this production. The action is entertaining, the drama is sincere, and the characters are tres Film Noir. Not bad, which is impressive in itself.
Rating: 7

How convenient you should be dating a cop. Oh right you stood him up to go meet the dead guy...
How convenient you should be dating a cop. Oh right you stood him up to go meet the dead guy...

Overall Rating: 66% (Kill The Sound And I Won't Tell Em What You Did...)
Aftertaste:

At this point it's more like these old films are sinister little teases of the potential of his later works. I'm actually very much enjoying my exploration of Hitchcock in chronological order (as much as possible). You see this way when people go on and on about how much better Hitchcock is than any other director alive, I can turn into a huge snob and belittle the speaker in question, in a haughty British WASP voice, "My good sir, you would expect that a man who has made ten films would know what he's doing by the eleventh. This is grossly untrue when you speak of this idol of yours. Perhaps you should consider actually informing yourself before you speak fallacies". Then I'd tip my hat and slap him with a glove.

This is why I learn so much... to be a dick.

| | | | | | |

I really enjoy Blackmail. Yes, it's a little clumsy and rough around the edges (that scene with the Blackmailer in the shop seems to just go on forever), but given the era it was produced in and the technical challenges Hitchcock was facing I think he did a great job. How amazing is it that with his first talkie, the first talkie ever produced in Britain, that he right away began experimenting with sound and trying to use it in unusual ways. I'm referring to the oft-discussed "knife" conversation, where all the other words are inaudible except for the word "knife". Also loved the painting of the jester...

And Hitchcock WAS the greatest director ever. He definitely grew with each film, but keep in mind this was in the days when the only way to learn about filmmaking was to actually get out there and do it. There was no long history of filmmaking to reference. Hitchcock and his contemporaries wrote the book on filmmaking as they went along. 


Squish, you are "fah" too hard on this film (WASP)! Sure, the sound is clunky at times, but the script was much better than a 4, it was the delivery that suffered because of the crude sound engineering. Besides Ondra, in fact, I thought the vocal deliveries sounded completely natural, and just listening to the dialogue I wouldn't have suspected this was the first British talkie. Side-note: I heard Ondra's voice in a test screening of Blackmail and I thought it sounded just fine...English accent mixed with Eastern European. I wish they had just used her instead, her performance was hurt badly with the weak dubbing.


The audio wasn't actually dubbed in at all. There was a british actress on the set saying all of Ondra's lines as she was mouthing them. Quite spectacular actually. If you don't like the sound version however I would suggest trying to get your hands on the silent version. I prefer it. Alice is more complex a character. Important parts of the story are changed. For example Alice kisses her artist/rapist friend first which adds this new point of view to what happens in that scene. Unfortunately the silent version is only released in Germany I believe so getting your hands on it will be quite difficult.

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