Monday, November 15, 2010

Capsule Review: Blackmail (1929)

blackmail posterOften considered the first British talky (and certainly the first to make extensive use of sound recorded on set) Alfred Hitchcock was actually filming a silent adaptation of Charles Bennett’s play when John Maxwell of British International Pictures asked him to film sections in sound. Instead, Hitchcock re-filmed almost the entire film ,which is why there are two versions of the film that now exist. After killing a would-be rapist, Alice White (Anny Ondra – who was dubbed on set by Joan Barry) flees the scene, only to have the incident discovered by her Police Detective boyfriend Frank Webber (John Longden) who helps her until  thief Tracey (Donald Calthrop) tries to blackmail the couple. While fairly straightforward plot-wise, many of Hitchcock’s trademark flourishes are on display: from moments of tremendous black humor, a climax featuring a famous landmark (in this case the British Museum), and one of Hitchcock’s most pronounced cameos. He also makes great use of his new tool, particularly during a breakfast scene where Alice’s guilt is magnified by the conversation becoming a blur of sound, with the word “knife” continually stabbing through. Great fun, and a sign of Hitchcock’s true arrival.

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