BLACKMAIL(director/writer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: Charles Bennett/Benn W. Levy/Garnett Weston/based on the play by Charles Bennett; cinematographer: Jack Cox; editor: Emile de Ruelle; music: Campbell and Connelly/arranged by Hubert Bath and Harry Stafford; cast: Anny Ondra (Alice White), Sara Allgood (Mrs. White), Charles Paton (Mr.White), John Longden (Detective Frank Webber), Donald Calthrop (Tracy), Cyril Ritchard (Crewe, The Artist), Hannah Jones (The Landlady), Harvey Braban (The Chief Inspector), Phyllis Monkman (Gossip); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Maxwell; Alpha Video Distributors; 1929-UK)
“It’s a more than adequate though primitive murder mystery story that’s enhanced by a series of marvelous technical innovations for its time.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Alfred Hitchcock (“Vertigo”/”The Lodger”/”Psycho”) directs his first sound film (also England’s first complete talkie, though a few part-talkies were produced around the same time), which was at first shot as a silent (a silent version still exists but was not as popular as the talkie and is rarely seen today). It’s a more than adequate though primitive murder mystery story that’s enhanced by a series of marvelous technical innovations for its time and equally innovative experiments in narrative storytelling. But it can even be further faulted because the pacing is poor and the psychological thriller aspect lacks suspense. Hitchcock was not yet the “master of suspense” that he was soon to become, but this film helped establish his rep as someone who knows how to shoot thrillers. Because lead actress Anny Ondra, born in Poland, possessed a thick Eastern European accent, her voice was dubbed by British actress Joan Barry. The film is based on the play by Charles Bennett.
Alice White (Anny Ondra), the daughter of a tobacco shopkeeper, is the girlfriend of the competent New Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber (John Longden). While dining in a crowded restaurant, they have a row over his not being on time and she does not go to the movies with him. Instead she meets at the restaurant her flirtatious artist neighbor, Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), who takes her to his flat to see his etchings. Once there he tries to rape her after she models for him, but she stabs him to death with a bread knife to protect her honor. Frank is one of the investigators of the murder, and when he finds her glove at the crime scene he conceals it. An opportunistic jailbird, Tracy (Donald Calthrop), was also at the scene and found Alice’s other glove and blackmails the detective for concealing evidence. It’s most appealing visual sequence is a first-rate chase along the British Museum, as Tracy is on the run from the cops and falls to his death.
Hitchcock deferred to the studio’s request to change the play’s tragic ending (supposedly for commercial reasons) to a happy ending for the young couple. All-in-all the flawed film still bears the Master’s trademark in storytelling, and the motif introduced of the “guilty woman” has also come into play in many of his later films and has become part of Hitchcock’s signature.
REVIEWED ON 5/5/2008 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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