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Blackmail

Posted by martinteller on December 3, 2012

Alice (Anny Ondra) ditches her detective boyfriend Frank (John Longden) for a date with an artist (Cyril Ritchard).  He lures her back to his pad to look at his etchings, and forcefully tries to put the moves on her.  She grabs the first thing within reach — a knife — to defend herself, and ends up killing the man.  She leaves behind a clue that Frank discovers… he agrees to protect her, but a shady witness (Donald Calthrop) has other plans.

Hitchcock’s first talkie, and generally regarded as Britain’s first as well.  It began as a silent but parts were redone to utilize the new technology.  As you would expect from the master, there are some innovative uses of sound.  For instance, the morning after the murder, Alice is listening to a neighbor gossip about the crime.  Alice flinches at every utterance of the word “knife” and eventually the speech devolves into “blah blah knife blah blah blah knife blah blah KNIFE”.  Also, Ondra’s accent was too thick to be understood, so Joan Barry read the lines offscreen while Ondra mouthed them… effectively creating the world’s first dub.

There are some other noteworthy things about the film.  The climax at the British Museum looks forward to similar uses of landmarks in Saboteur and North By Northwest.  The footage from the intro — showing the apprehension of a criminal — is mirrored in the end, with a now different emotional context.  The fade between an empty ashtray to a full ashtray to signify the passage of time may be the first of its kind (or not, I dunno… seems clever for the time, though).  An odd shadow falls across a man’s face to suggest a villainous moustache.  The Hitchcock touches are there.

It does suffer from the awkward pacing that seems to plague most early talkies, and the film seems to spend entirely too much time getting to the meat of the story.  But it’s quite entertaining in its cinematic flourishes and has quite a bizarre ending.  Rating: Good (79)

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