Frequently Asked Questions
More or less. Alfred Hitchcock started filming this as a silent and only later reworked it as a talkie. Thus there are two versions in existence: a 75-minute silent and an 85-minute talkie. Both use many of the same scenes. For the talkie, Hitchcock dubbed voices and sound effects over the silent scenes (like that eight-minute opening) to make it fit in with the scenes that were filmed with sound.
This was not unusual. Many of the better directors of the early talkie period filmed the action-oriented scenes in the usual silent manner in order to allow them the same freedom of movement that they had achieved by the end of the silent period. Hitchcock said that Blackmail was his farewell to the silent film, which suggests that he incorporated silent film techniques that he knew he'd never be able to use again.
Countless distributors have released Blackmail (1929) onto VHS and DVD, often with a bad picture and unintelligible sound. This film is in the public domain (or so it would seem; see below), which means that any distributor can legally sell copies without paying royalties. Beware. Many small distributors market copies of public domain films with poor picture and sound. Others are more reputable and deliver good transfers of the best available prints. Shop around.
You can begin your search here at Amazon.com.
It should be noted that Blackmail was an experiment in sound film by Hitchcock. In at least one scene, the sound is supposed to be unintelligible.
No. The US copyright to Blackmail was reasserted by UGC UK (Union General Cinematographique) in 1997 and the rights subsequently transferred to Canal + Image UK. As per the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (1994) signed by President Clinton, Blackmail remains under copyright until at least 2050 (being 70 years after the death of the principal director, according to the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988).
Details of the copyright restoration notice for Blackmail (and other Hitchcock films) can be found on the U.S. Copyright Office website at: http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/1997/62fr44841.html.
Where the transfer is based on an unlicensed source -- which is typical of most of the US budget DVD releases of the film -- the quality is usually poor. In contrast, DVD releases in Europe (which have been officially licensed) are usually excellent. Unfortunately, the continued sale of unlicensed DVDs helps to perpetuate the myth that the film is in the public domain.