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Blackmail (1929)

Not Rated | | Crime, Thriller | 6 October 1929 (USA)
After killing a man in self-defense, a young woman is blackmailed by a witness to the killing.

Director:

Alfred Hitchcock

Writers:

Charles Bennett (from the play by), Alfred Hitchcock (adapted by) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Anny Ondra ... Alice White
Sara Allgood ... Mrs. White
Charles Paton ... Mr. White
John Longden ... Detective Frank Webber
Donald Calthrop ... Tracy
Cyril Ritchard ... The Artist
Hannah Jones ... The Landlady
Harvey Braban Harvey Braban ... The Chief Inspector (sound version)
Ex-Det. Sergt. Bishop Ex-Det. Sergt. Bishop ... The Detective Sergeant (as Ex-Det. Sergt. Bishop - Late C.I.D. Scotland Yard)
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Storyline

Alice White is the daughter of a shopkeeper in 1920s 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. Written by Col Needham <col@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

See and hear it. (Trade paper ad). See more »

Genres:

Crime | Thriller

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

According to a documentary on Hitchcock's British films on the BBC, the cameramen found it rather difficult to shoot any scenes whilst being confined inside a huge box (this had to be done so that the sounds of the cameras rolling wouldn't be heard). One cameraman described how it became so warm inside the box and that other people would produce flatulence at the time. See more »

Goofs

When the Artist helps Alice fasten the ballerina outfit, the position of the sleeve on her shoulder changes between shots. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Det. Frank Webber: Well, we finished earlier tonight than I expected.
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Alternate Versions

Originally filmed as a silent movie, running 75 minutes; Hitchcock later added newly shot scenes and had other existing footage dubbed to create a talkie version, running 86 minutes. See more »

Connections

Featured in Celluloid Man (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

The Best Things in Life Are Free
(1927) (uncredited)
Written by Buddy G. DeSylva Lew Brown and Ray Henderson
Whistled by Donald Calthrop
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User Reviews

 
They Did A Bad, Bad Thing
13 June 2007 | by slokesSee all my reviews

It's not the crime itself, but the cover-up that entraps two lovers in this cleverly sinewy suspense film shot by Alfred Hitchcock early in his career.

How early? Apparently, the sound era arrives about ten minutes in, as the opening reel is shot entirely as a silent movie (minus "quote" cards) before switching to audible dialogue. Yet like many seemingly creaky elements of "Blackmail", this is something that actually works to the film's benefit and gives it a stylistic uniqueness that helps it stand out today.

Alice (Anny Ondra) steps out on her police detective boyfriend Frank (John Longden) to have fun with an artist she fancies named Crewe (Cyril Ritchard). A crime is committed instead, and she finds herself back in Frank's arms seeking his protection. Unfortunately for both of them, a sponger lowlife named Tracy (Donald Calthrop) knows what's doing and pressures the pair for his silence.

To really appreciate "Blackmail's" skewed perspective, it's important to understand Hitchcock's complex view of the law. By all accounts a law-abiding, socially upright man, he nevertheless nursed an extreme dread of John Law dating back to a childhood episode when he was locked in a cell to be taught a lesson. As a director, Hitchcock presented authority figures as vaguely menacing, while reserving his greatest sympathy for outsiders who found themselves, rightly or wrongly, on the run.

The first image of "Blackmail" is the spinning tire of a police quick-response van, or is it a roulette wheel? The capricious nature of law enforcement is always on view, whether it's a bobby sauntering outside an apartment window while Alice screams for help inside or Frank using his authority to subvert a murder investigation.

This is the rare Hitchcock film that features fine acting bottom-to-top, but Calthrop stands out best as Tracy, the personification of the core ambiguity of this film. Described as "kind of mousy", given to smirking while pleading for help and whistling when he thinks he has the upper hand, Tracy seems easy to hate at first glance but isn't, not as Calthrop imbues him with a vulnerability anyone can relate to, cutting across the staginess around him with a dynamic performance that anticipates how cinema liberated the actor from hidebound stagecraft.

"One's got to live, you know!" he says, but the people he says this to act as if this is yet another of Tracy's unreasonable demands. We end the film pulling for him with as much passion as we pulled away from him at first encounter.

Subtle directorial touches abound, like Alice holds her face in an expression we see mirrored in a cut-to scene of Tracy fleeing through the British Museum while an impassive giant mask looks on. There's also clever use of the new sound medium (the "knife" one's not subtle, but a lot of fun) and knowing humor, like a conversation about a new crime film. Frank, being from Scotland Yard, scoffs at such fiction, but Alice thinks it has merit: "I heard they got a real criminal to direct it, just to be on the safe side."

About the only negatives are the static compositions and bad audio, problems of the period and not of the film. "Blackmail" even has a terrific final shot, which Hitchcock never topped until his final film, "Family Plot". It's another rueful note on the hit-or-miss quality of law enforcement, one that stays with you after the laughter fades.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

6 October 1929 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Blackmail See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (2012 restoration) (silent)

Sound Mix:

Mono (R.C.A. Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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