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Blackmail (1929) - Plot Summary Poster

(1929)

Plot

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Summaries

  • Alice White is the daughter of a shopkeeper in 1920's London. Her boyfriend, Frank Webber is a Scotland Yard detective who seems more interested in police work than in her. Frank takes Alice out one night, but she has secretly arranged to meet another man. Later that night Alice agrees to go back to his flat to see his studio. The man has other ideas and as he tries to rape Alice, she defends herself and kills him with a bread knife. When the body is discovered, Frank is assigned to the case, he quickly determines that Alice is the killer, but so has someone else and blackmail is threatened.

  • Alice White, the daughter of a tobacconist, has been dating Frank Webber, a young up and coming detective at Scotland Yard. After successfully ditching Frank one evening on a date, Alice instead meets up with a young male artist who she really wanted to be with that evening. After going up to the artist's studio apartment, he tried to rape her. She ended up stabbing him to death in self defense, after which she tried to wipe out any evidence of being in his apartment, followed by sneaking out of the apartment and wandering the streets in a shocked daze over what she did. Frank ends up being one of the detectives assigned to the case, he who sees evidence only known to him of Alice having been in the artist's apartment, and recognizing the dead man as the person Alice sneaked off with after she ditched him the night before. Frank decides to hide the evidence he knows to implicate Alice from his fellow detectives but confront Alice with it to see what she says. But before she answers, an unsavory type named Tracy implies that he knows what happens and blackmails the pair in return for his silence. Eventually, Frank learns that Tracy is a wanted criminal. So Frank comes up with an idea of pinning the murder on Tracy. The questions become whether such a move will actually work, and if so whether Alice's conscience will allow an innocent man, however unsavory, be charged with a crime he didn't commit.

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  • In director Alfred Hitchcock's first talking picture (which actually started out as a silent film but switched to a talkie part way through filming) a young woman, Alice White, finds herself being blackmailed after killing a man in self defense. To complicate matters further the hard-working policeman investigating the death is her boyfriend Frank Webber. Frank soon learns that Alice is responsible but sets out to prove her innocent of murder and stop the blackmailer.

  • Alice White, detective Frank Webber's girlfriend, is invited by an artist to visit his studio. The man tries to rape Alice and she kills him with a knife to defend herself. A criminal sees the murder and he keeps the lady's glove from the crime scene in order to blackmail her. Frank is assigned to the murder case.

  • After killing a man in self-defence, a young woman is blackmailed by a witness to the killing.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • A tire is spinning. A police van speeds along city streets. Inside, a Morse Code radio message containing an address is received. The van stops at a seedy building, and two plain clothes police go up some stairs. Quietly, they crack open the door of a room where a man lies atop a bed, reading a paper. A gun is on his bedside table. The man realizes he is about to be arrested and makes a move towards his gun, but the detectives move faster, and arrest him.

    The man is in a lineup in a patio with dozens of others. A young woman slowly passes by the men, and identifies the man, suggesting a rape charge will follow. The detectives work is finished, they ride home on a train. A fat man {Hitchcock} one seat away is being annoyed by a little boy who pulls down his hat,

    Scotland Yard Detective Frank Webber (John Longden) goes out for the evening with his capricious girlfriend Alice White (Anny Ondra), first going to a crowded tea house. As they jockey for a table, she misplaces one glove and Frank must go back to retrieve it.

    They bicker in a series of minor quarrels. Frank seems more interested in police work than in her. They talk about going to a movie, a new crime film. Frank scoffs, claiming its too unrealistic, but Alice comments: I heard they got a real criminal to direct it.

    Alice capriciously changes her mind back and forth driving Frank off. She has a note from another man arranging to meet in that teahouse, and she spots him and they make signs. Frank decides he has had enough, pays and leaves, but stays near the door.

    Alice leaves with Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), an artist. Frank sees them leaving the restaurant and follows them for a while.

    Alice is invited by Crewe to visit his studio, she demurs coyly but finally agrees. We learn that Alice lives with her father and mother in their tobacco shop, a short distance away.

    A suspicious looking man is lurking around, observing them.

    Crewe finds a note at the entrance. He goes behind the stairs ask the concierge Mrs. Humphries (Hannah Jones) at what time the note was left. Alice is already several steps up the stairs, so Mrs. Humphries does not see her.

    The camera follows Crewe and Alice as they climb multiple flights to the top floor. The artist's intentions are obvious, but Alice is unaware and innocently flirts with the artist by saying she might like to be his model, cooing with delight over his attentions.

    At his studio, a finished painting of a jester laughing at the viewer draws Alice's attention.

    Alice asks how the pallette is held, then paints a head on an empty canvas, which she playfully signs. Crewe then sketches a nude female body to go with the head. Crewe says he will paint her if she puts on a dancer's costume that is hanging on a screen.

    Crewe sings and plays "Miss Up-to-Date" on the piano while we watch Alice undress behind the screen.

    They have some fun and the guy tries to push too fast forward as he forces a kiss on Alice. She says she wants to go home. After she takes off the costume, he takes hold of her street clothes and flings them out of reach, and assaults her, dragging her to his bed.

    In silhouette we see the couple struggling wildly behind a curtain that hides the bed. A bobby patrolling outside below the apartment window while Alice screams hears nothing.

    To defend herself, Alice grabs a nearby knife and stabs him to death. She walks back from the bed in a daze, the knife gleaming in her hand.

    The jester painting appears to be looking at her, and she uses the knife to stab at the canvas.

    The camera swoops about to convey Alice's disorientation.

    Alice removes evidence of her presence in the flat. She obliterates her signature on the canvas and looks around carefully as she picks up her belongings.

    However, she forgets one glove behind. She sneaks noiselessly down stairs, opens the door and leaves. The mysterious man is still lurking around, watching.

    Alice walks aimlessly along empty streets which seem filled with reminders of the murder. In her eyes, a neon advertisement showing a cocktail shaker becomes a hand plunging a dagger. Whenever she sees an extended right hand, she thinks of Crewe's hand extending from the deathbed.

    Alice wanders back into her home at dawn and sneaks inside. She lies down clothed, pulls up the covers of her bed, and pretends to be asleep when her mother (Lisa Evans) brings her a cup of tea. After her mother leaves the room, Alice takes off her clothing and changes into a fresh outfit for the day.

    The concierge discovers the body very early that morning, calls police, and soon after, the murder is the talk of the neighborhood.

    During the family breakfast that morning, Alice listens to a customer neighbor carrying on about the killing. "Oh, it wouldn't be so bad if the victim were bopped over the head with a brick -- that's a British way. But a knife! How could anyone use a knife?"

    Alice is asked to slice the bread, and her hand trembles as she grasps the knife. The neighbor babbles on. We hear only the word "knife" stabbing at Alice's conscience, the rest of visitor's nonstop comments become softer and softer, but the word KNIFE stays loud. A last one is practically a scream, and the bread knife leaps out of Alice's hand.

    Alice's father (Charles Paton) yells "Ere! You might've cut someone with that!"

    Meantime, Frank has been assigned to the case and finds one of the gloves at the murder scene. He recognizes the glove as Alice's, so Frank uses his position to subvert the investigation by hiding it in his pocket. Assuming that Alice is the killer, he goes to visit Alice at her father's shop.

    Frank takes Alice aside to talk in a phone booth, making it clear it that he loves Alice and will protect her. He is clearly devastated as he confirms she indeed is the killer.

    At this point, petty thief Tracy (Donald Calthrop), the lurking suspicious figure who saw Alice entering and leaving the artist's flat, interrupts the two and attempts to blackmail the couple, showing he has the other glove with him. First he just asks Frank to pay for an expensive cigar.

    To gain time, Frank and Alice tell the family he is a very special business friend of Frank's. The blackmailer, befuddling Alice's parents, demands breakfast, and relishes it, while Frank watches in disgust.

    Frank predicts Tracy's blackmail will fail. His conflicted willingness to cover up for Alice receives an unexpected boost when Tracy is fingered as a suspect in Crewe's death. The concierge identifies him as being at the scene of the crime. Tracy has a police record so suspicion falls on him.

    Frank receives the new information and sneers when he goes back to face Tracy with it, and announces he has called the police to make an arrest. Cornered, slimy, but dirt-poor, Tracy offers to give back the money, and says he wasn't serious about the blackmail. "One's got to live, you know!"

    The same police van of the early scenes rushes along the streets.

    To avoid arrest, Tracy jumps out, shattering a back window. The camera, as if startled by the commotion, dollies backward and we see the posse of lawmen rushing after Tracy.

    After being taken into custody, while being transported in a van, Tracy simply jumps out of the van at a traffic stop, and the pursuit continues on foot. He attempts to shake off the pursuers by losing them inside the vast British museum.

    While the museum chase is going on, Alice sits in her bedroom, meditating and reflecting on her situation.

    The camera cuts back and forth between Alice's meditation and the chase. Tracy is first chased in large rooms with display cases, corridors, then Tracy flees down a hanging rope while an enormous Egyptian stone face stares impassively.

    After being surrounded, he clambers to the top of the main dome and dies after falling through the skylight.

    Alice's reflections end and she resolves to go to Scotland Yard and confess.

    She asks to talk to the chief inspector (Harvey Braban) about the murder. When she is ushered in, Frank is already there. She is interrupted before she has her say, first by Frank, who says her statement would be meaningless since the case is solved, and then by an unrelated phone call to the chief inspector. Frank escorts her out.

    She tells Frank that she killed Crewe, because she was about to be raped and was defending herself.

    Frank clenches his fists and stares towards the camera as if to claim his deception has been vindicated.

    As a piece of evidence, the painting of the torn jester, is brought into the station, the sight of it troubles Alice's conscience.

    All seems well between Alice and the relieved Frank, as he and Alice walk away together, hand in hand, yet one senses Alice's unease behind her eyes in the final images.

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