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Reviews & Ratings for
Blackmail More at IMDbPro »

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44 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

Creative, Subtle, & Suspenseful

Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio
1 June 2001

While remembered as the first sound picture made by Alfred Hitchcock (or anyone else in Britain), there is much more to "Blackmail" than merely historical interest. It reveals the director's subtle creativity, with a carefully structured story that also produces some real suspense, with one of Hitchcock's best cameos and an entertaining chase sequence as bonuses. The movie has a unique feel, as Hitchcock was still using many silent film techniques at the same time that he was experimenting with sound. Not all of this works perfectly, but it does not detract from the film's many positive features.

Alice White (Anny Ondra, voice dubbed by Joan Barry) goes out for the evening with her boyfriend, who is a police detective (John Longden). When they have a series of minor quarrels, Alice decides to go her own way, and meets an artist friend. The artist's intentions are obvious, but Alice is innocently unaware. When he brings her to his studio, there is soon an unpleasant confrontation that sets in motion a turbulent series of events.

The story is carefully constructed not just to produce suspense but also to raise interesting questions in the viewer's mind. Alice feels a terrible sense of guilt and fear over what has happened - communicated to the viewer in a variety of creative ways - but of what is she really guilty? The behavior of the detective boyfriend is partly well-intentioned, but he certainly is not faultless. The moral ambiguity is often subtle, because it takes a back seat to the suspense, and it takes a couple of viewings to appreciate all that is going on.

There is a particularly nice symmetry to the beginning and ending, pointing to the greater significance of the action in between. The opening sequence (filmed in silent movie style) shows the detective and his partner dealing with a suspect in a routine way, not caring about him as a person. In the final scenes, when the detective must help Alice make a final report on everything that has happened, he sees his job in a far different perspective.

"Blackmail" is of the darker type of Hitchcock, like "Notorious" or "Vertigo". While clearly made in a different era, it has the same kind of depth and craftsmanship that distinguished those later, more well-known masterpieces.

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27 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

All Things Considered, Quite Extraordinary

9/10
Author: Brian Ewig (fangus@hotmail.com) from Conneaut, OH
18 March 1999

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Considering the technical limitations confronting Hitchcock (the part-sound/part-silent format; the bulky, graceless early sound camera; a leading lady who barely spoke English, etc.), "Blackmail" remains one of the director's most impressive productions. The visual and sound quality is excellent, especially for a 1929 film, and already Hitchcock is using distinctive camera angles to create memorable effects. (Notice the shadowy interior of the Artist's loft, and the way Hitchcock swoops the camera about to convey Alice's disorientation after the murder.) I also love the way Hitchcock depicts the Blackmailer's flight after his climactic confrontation with Alice and the Detective. We never see the Blackmailer at all - the camera remains frozen on the face of the Detective, who reacts to what is going on. At the moment the Blackmailer shatters the window, the Detective lets out a shout, and the camera - as if startled by the commotion - dollies backward. We immediately cut to the busted window, with a posse of lawmen rushing toward it. It's a wonderful device (what other director in 1929 would have approached the scene in this way, I wonder?). The performances in "Blackmail" are remarkable and eccentric, in the best sense of the word. Donald Calthrop and Cyril Ritchard, playing the disheveled blackmailer and the lecherous artist, etch themselves in your memory. Anny Ondra is fine as Alice, gamely committing herself to the role, even though she was pantomiming lines. Her dazed reactions at the climax of the murder sequence are shocking. She's like a demented robot, yet the behavior rings true for me. Lastly, let me say I admire John Longden's performance most of all. His role as Frank, the detective, is in no sense that of a traditional film hero. He often bullies Alice, turns moody and childish during arguments and is willing to pin murder on an innocent (albeit not very nice) man. Longden realizes all the not very appealing attributes of Frank's behavior (how he sneers when the tables finally turn on Calthrop), but he also makes clear that he loves Alice and is trying to protect her. He is clearly devastated as he talks with Alice in the phone booth and realizes she is indeed guilty. In summary, few of Hitchcock's 1930 British films are on a par with "Blackmail." The depth of its characterizations will remain unmatched until "Rebecca" a decade later. Reflect on how "Blackmail" compares - technically - with America's first sound film and you start to see the true measure of Hitchcock's genius.

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28 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Be patient with this 70 year old classic! It's gonna grab ya!

Author: Glenn Andreiev (gandreiev@aol.com) from Huntington, NY
19 December 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If a modern audience sat down to see this film, Alfred Hitchcock's first talkie, they'd squirm in their seats - at first. Unconvincing sound effects and an unmoving camera seemingly bolted to the floor don't help as we watch a prim Scotland Yard detective (John Longden) on a date with his hard to please girlfriend, Alice (Anna Ondra) But, when Alice has to defend herself against a letch who picks her up, the film becomes classic Hitchcock. Rather than use the newfound medium of sound solely to record the audio, Hitchcock uses sound in an expressionistic, experimental manner. After Alice kills the artist, common sounds becoming annoying blasts to the skull! Hitchcock ends the film with a silent (except for music) chase through the British Museum. Not only does this scene anticipate key moments in THE 39 STEPS, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, and NORTH BY NORTHWEST, it's a companion piece. Fun viewing.

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27 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Hitchcock's first talkie, and one of his best films!

Author: Glenn Andreiev (gandreiev@aol.com) from Huntington, NY
28 December 1998

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"....knife....knife...knife....(etc.)" -this is probably the most celebrated line of dialog from early Hitchcock. In 1929, Alfred Hitchcock was halfway thru production of "Blackmail", a silent film, when the studio told him to remake the film at once as a talkie. He did, and it became the first films to boldly experiment with the art of talking pictures.

The plot is so simple, it's almost boring: a detective and his girlfriend, Alice, argue during a dinner date and go separate ways. She goes off with an artist to his loft, where he tries to rape her. In self defense, she stabs the artist to death. A local neer-do-well (Donald Calthrop in a fine, sleazy performance!) goes to blackmail her and her cop boyfriend. The police accidently blame the blackmailer for the murder. After a chase thru the British Museum, the blackmailer falls to his death. The police close the case, and the girl and her boyfriend have to live the feelings of guilt. "Blackmail" abounds with the Hitchcock touch. It begins with a silent, detailed study of a typical arrest, letting us know, Scotland Yard is a fearful force not to be messed with. When Alice leaves the artist's corpse in his loft, the streets are filled with gruesome reminders of the crime. In her eyes, a neon advertisment showing a cocktail shaker becomes a hand holding a dagger, whenever anyone extends a hand in the street, it reminds her of her victim's extended dead hand, and there's the most famous scene from this film: a neighbor gabs on and on about the murder, repeating the word knife. Hitchcock had the entire gabbing reduced to a low mutter except for the oft- repeated word knife, which is made louder. The chase thru the British Museum seems to be an early rehearsal for all the other Hitchcock films where somebody is chased thru a famous landmark. "Blackmail" is credited as the first British talkie. It solidified for the then 30 year old Alfred Hitchcock that thrillers were his territory.

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26 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Blackmail 1929

8/10
Author: fjmarkowitz from New York, United States
27 October 2005

Saw this for the first time the other night on Turner Classic network. The movie is really is a "proto-Hitchcock" style; You could catch a glimpse of the future "Bruno" (Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train) in the blackmailer. I suppose we can discuss character development and so on, but after all it was 1929,the first British talkie, and therefore at the beginning of a whole new concept. The scenes in the artist's bedroom were certainly risqué by American standards at the time. I understand the movie initially began as a silent film and a silent version was indeed filmed. Probably every future Hitchcock twist and turn in the plot is in there and I found it quite enjoyable.

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14 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Remarkable piece of cinematic history

7/10
Author: mstomaso from Vulcan
25 March 2007

Hitchcock's Blackmail might have been a total train wreck in the hands of a lesser talent. Instead, it is a remarkable piece of cinematic history, and still tremendously entertaining after 78 years. The film was partly shot when Hitchcock learned that he would have access to sound equipment. His female lead was a talented German silent picture actress, whose accent was too heavy for sound, so an off-camera reader had to be used, plus a decent amount of expensive film had already been used and had to be integrated into the 'talkie' as well.

All considered, the movie is probably the best example of the transition from these two cinematic paradigms that can be found.

The silent portion of the film establishes John Longden's character as a hard-nosed young Scotland Yard detective. Anny Ondra plays the lovely young lady who is engaged to him,and who soon becomes the center of our attention. One night after they argue over some petty matters, they part company and Anny meets up with a male artist friend, who, unbeknownst to her, is interested in more than just pleasant conversation. Frank (Longden) spots them leaving the restaurant and follows them for a while. The artist coaxes Alice (Ondra) up to his flat, and things take a sinister turn in short order.

Over the second half of the film, the plots unfolds, and the emotions and consciences of the protagonists are sorely tried.

What immediately blew my mind was what a great silent director Hitchcock was. Shouldn't have been too surprising since Hitchcock has always struck me as a master cinematographer. The first 20 minutes of the film are completely silent,and there are no interruptions from distracting story boards. Nevertheless, through incredible use of lighting, camera work, and evocative acting, you understand everything that is going on clearly, and are drawn straight into the edgy atmosphere so familiar to those who appreciate the work of this great director.

The acting is mostly very good. Only Longden sometimes seems to over or under-act his part, and Ondra is really wonderful all the way through. I was not surprised to learn of her lengthy and productive career both before and after this film and will now look for more of her work.It is also interesting to see how the actors adapted so readily to the new medium. Although some have said that the sound portion of this film seemed over-acted because the actors were still clinging to silent film conventions, I really can not agree. Some of the characters (Alice, for example) required very evocative, rather physical performances, and I can't imagine how she could have done better.

Highly recommended for the amazing photography, exceptionally professional though very early use of sound, and the typically perfect pace.

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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

A psychological thriller art film of the late 20's! A Hitchcock classic!

8/10
Author: matt-szy from United States
10 May 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's an art film by todays standards. But it's also classic Hitchcock. Not only does it build suspense, which for a film of this time seems hard to do through the typical camera distance and theatrical acting which this film has plenty of, but still Hitchcock does it and does it well. It begins as a silent film as we watch an arrest take place. This arrest feels out of place because it doesn't tie into the story. But it leads into an atmosphere of conviction and guilt. This is the films opening. The first dialogue scene occurs in a stylized way, by todays standards, as we follow two detectives walking, one Frank Webber, as they joke around. There are many shots where the camera sits, static, displaying a nice composition, as action happens, dialogue and story unfold. And in between these shots are shots of faces reacting, which incites more psychological participation in the viewer, a very Hitchcock device. The characters feelings, uneasiness, a general tension, become more subjective, not just something we figure we are suppose to get. We actually feel it. Actually, I was very surprised to hear Blackmail is from 1929. Sure it has many technical errors, jump cuts, sounds glitches, and lighting changes, overplayed acting, yet all this aside the story progresses very realistically and sadistically on the part of the guilty lead actress and her mate which in the end feels all very current. I figured this film was from the late 30's if not 40's. The film ends with a kind of uneasiness as we are left with two guilty characters, more so the female lead, who we can imagine will have trouble coping with her conscience. And that is the irony, because after all they are free, and convicted of nothing. But in this case free to dwell in their quiet guilt seems a very harsh punishment filled with more suffering than any jail could provide. In all, a great film to see.

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15 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Silent Hitchcock.

8/10
Author: mifunesamurai from Australia
7 February 2003

Review for the silent version - What a treat to see Hitchcock exploit the visuals and string together a neat thriller. The final chase sequence at the British Museum and the Library is one of his best. Don't let the silent movie trademark of ham acting spoil it for you because that is part of the fun.

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15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Hitchcock's guilty woman

7/10
Author: Lee Eisenberg (lee.eisenberg.pdx@gmail.com) from Portland, Oregon, USA
10 August 2005

A common motif in Alfred Hitchcock's movies is the guilty woman: "Blackmail", "Psycho" and "The Birds" are all prime examples. In "Blackmail", Alice White (Anny Ondra) goes home with an artist one night and he tries to rape her. She murders him, and from then on everything reminds her of it. The jester painting appears to be looking at her (or she at it?), a billboard looks like a knife, and a woman keeps uttering the word knife. But in the end, everything blows up in Alice's face.

Hitch was certainly showing his chops here. The camera angles, scenery, and other such things all combined to make what we would expect in a Hitchcock movie. I try to imagine being a moviegoer in 1929 watching "Blackmail" for the first time, wondering what Hitchcock's subsequent work would be like.

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10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

the unredeemable

8/10
Author: (winner55) from United States
24 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The most recent previous reviewer, Robert_Maxwell wrote: "Any conclusion is left hanging, and I didn't get the impression this was intentional ambiguity." I agree with the first part of this remark, but must disagree entirely with the main point. The ambiguity is indeed intentional. Although the heroine is now seemingly free of any legal charge of murder, we know that she is certain to marry her detective boyfriend, who knows of her culpability in the death of the rapist. She will thus be living in a state of perpetual 'blackmail,' married to the one man who can expose her secret at his leisure.

Not a very pleasant thought - and this is not a very pleasant film. The whole story, after all, hinges on an implicit assumption - if she had not killed the rapist, and had the rape become known, the society in which she lives would have held her accountable for the rape - the crime for which the victim, rather than the perpetrator, was considered guilty (and still is, unfortunately, in many regions). This is, of course, the real reason she covers up the killing, since (she has good reason to believe) the authorities would not recognize a claim of self-defense against rape, and she would be held doubly responsible - for 'enticing' the man, then killing him for acting out his 'understandable' sexual urges that she 'aroused.'

So she remains in a state of unredeemable guilt - guilty of murder, guilty of having been the victim of rape, guilty of having been too beautiful, guilty of loving a man who could at any time betray her - indeed, guilty of being innocent. Guilty, in short - of being a woman.

While Hitchcock's film-making savvy is everywhere in evidence, and the pace is fairly swift, this is one of the master's heaviest, darkest, most depressing films. A good film, necessary to see at least once, but very troubling nonetheless.

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