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Stars: 4.5 / 5
Recommendation: An unquestionable Hitchcock movie with suspense and thrills that begs the user to be patient with the frames as they progress. An important moment in the history of film making everywhere where Hitchcock knocks his mystery thriller out of the park in both Silent and Sound versions.
Blackmail is a 1929 British thriller drama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, produced by John Maxwell and released by Wardour Films in UK and Sono Art-World Wide Pictures in US. The film has Anny Ondra, John Longden, and Cyril Richard in the lead cast.
Artist Mr. Crewe (portrayed by Cyril Richard) tries to rape Alice White (portrayed by Anny Ondra) when she comes to visit his studio. In desperation she stabs him with a bread knife. Her boy friend, Scotland Yard Detective Frank Webb (portrayed by John Longden) is assigned the case when Mr. Crewe’s body is discovered. But they both end up being blackmailed by Tracy (portrayed by Donald Calthrop), a low-life bit thief.
The title of the film reminded me of the 1973 Hindi-Indian language thriller mystery Blackmail starring Dharmendra, Rakhee and Shatrughan Sinha. The stories have one plot line similar, the lead actress is being blackmailed. Everything else is as different as one is from Mars and another one from Venus.
The film was based on 1928 play of the same name by Charles Bennet. Screenplay was co-written by Hitchcock and Benn W. Levy, and uncredited writer Michael Powell. This was the first successful European talkie, but was also released as a silent film for theaters that were not yet equipped for sound. They had reused much of the Silent version to finish the Sound version.
Anny Ondra, who portrayed the role of Alice White, spoke with a Czech accent as she was raised in Prague. So for the Sound version, they had actress Joan Barry speak her lines during the shooting while Ondra lip-synched.
John Longden as Detective Frank Webb is rather charming and roughish. He shows the beginning of the film noir elements in the style of his dressing and the way he handles the case. Plus don’t forget that Hitchcock brings in his classic elements with a Blonde Ondra who is in trouble and a Dashing Longden who tries to save her in this film.
Although it is mostly Talkie, the first 6 to 10 minutes of the movie has no dialogues, just background music with the characters miming some words. Typical flapper dresses we get to see as was the 20s and early 30s fashion. The ending felt like it was unfinished or needed may be one more scene.
We get to see Hitchcock’s iconic car chases in this one too.
An unquestionable Hitchcock movie with suspense and thrills that begs the user to be patient with the frames as they progress. An important moment in the history of film making everywhere where Hitchcock knocks his mystery thriller out of the park in both Silent and Sound versions.
- The Chief Inspector’s role was played by Harvey Braban for the Sound Version and by Sam Livesey for the Silent Version.
- Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo shows him being bothered by a small boy as he reads a book on the London Underground. This is probably the lengthiest of Hitchcock’s cameo appearances.
3. The film boasts to not only be the first British Talkie, it also has two future directors in the crew – Ronald Neame operated the clapperboard and Michael Powell took on-set publicity photographs.
4. The 2022 historical drama film Downton Abbey: A New Era was produced by Ronald Neame’s grandson Gareth Neame and is partly inspired by this film Blackmail.
5. In one key shot, Mr. Crewe is photographed with a thick shadow across his upper lip. Hitchcock wanted the image to evoke the old-fashioned, heavily mustached villain found in many silent movies. He later called this touch “my farewell to silent pictures.”
6. The Detective Sergeant was played by a real-life Ex-Det Serg. Bishop of the Late CID Scotland Yard.
7. A list for the Identification Parades used for police lineup is shown at the beginning of the film. This is the real one that Scotland Yard was using at that time.
Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:
- The beginning of the film is shown a solid or covered wheel spinning, but in the next shot the vehicle is seen to have spoked wheels.
2. While entering Mr. Crewe’s apartment complex, he has his hat on his head, but the next seen showing them entering the building his hat is in his hand.
3. Mr. Crewe never lights the fire after he asks Alice if she feels cold and that he will light the fire.
4. At about 0:24:30 Mr. Crewe calls Alice as “Anny” and then corrects himself as Alice.
5. The signature Alice puts on the painting is different from the signature shown a little while later when Alice blots it out.
6. While Alice is displaying the ballerina’s dress to Mr. Crewe the sleeves on her shoulders are placed differently in between scenes.
7. The position of the knife in Alice’s hand is different before she stabs Crewe and after. Also there is no blood on the knife even though she stabs him several times.