Blackmail (1929) Poster

(1929)

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7/10
Remarkable piece of cinematic history
mstomaso25 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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9/10
All Things Considered, Quite Extraordinary
Fangus18 March 1999
Warning: 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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Creative, Subtle, & Suspenseful
Snow Leopard1 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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Be patient with this 70 year old classic! It's gonna grab ya!
boris-2619 December 2000
Warning: 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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Hitchcock's first talkie, and one of his best films!
boris-2628 December 1998
Warning: 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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8/10
A psychological thriller art film of the late 20's! A Hitchcock classic!
matt-szy10 May 2006
Warning: 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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8/10
Blackmail 1929
fjmarkowitz27 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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8/10
Not a disappointment at all
cstotlar-19 July 2011
I have seen most of Alfred Hitchcock's films, silent and talking, and was saving this one for a special occasion. It was really quite good and although over-rated despite being cited so often (along with Mamoulian's "Applause") as a successful example of the transition between the silents and talkies in all the references I've consulted, it still has some distinct good qualities of its own. Annie Ondra is an excellent silent actress and this among several other films proves it. Her accent was very strong, of course, and employing Joan Barry to "lip-synch" was genial. Francois Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock about working with Ms Ondra were enough to stimulate anyone's appetite to see her (and to hear Joan Barry) at work. The music - at least in the beginning - is excessively burdensome and "busy" and frankly irritating. However, when the characters finally began dialogue, it calmed down considerably and actually worked out well until the ending. We're seeing a hybrid here: a talkie and a part-talkie. When the talking itself finally happens, the characters aren't even facing the camera but are photographed from behind! This is the famous Hitchcock we know and love in the heat of action. The view of the staircase is very Hitchockian as in "Vertigo" or "Psycho" as well as the chase in a public monument (North by Northwest" comes to mind). Yes, the director made the move to talking pictures quite fluently and fluidly. One should keep in mind, too, that the film had already been completed as a silent before being converted into a talkie! All the more to admire...

Curtis Stotlar
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8/10
They Did A Bad, Bad Thing
slokes13 June 2007
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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8/10
the unredeemable
winner5524 January 2009
Warning: 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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8/10
Silent Hitchcock.
mifunesamurai7 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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7/10
"There, you ought to have been more careful, might have cut somebody with that."
classicsoncall28 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Alfred Hitchcock's first talking picture leaves one disoriented for quite a few minutes into the story before any words are spoken. There are scenes where people are speaking to each other, though no word screens appear, and this viewer was left wondering if the description on the slip cover of my DVD was in error. However, after reading other reviews of the film, it now makes sense that the film was originally commissioned as a silent, but was then given the go ahead as a talkie. Elements of the silent film style abound, and not just in the opening scenes. Prominent are the full screen facial closeups of the principal characters and the wide eyed demureness of leading lady Anny Ondra.

Ondra portrays Alice White, daughter of a shopkeeper and keeping company with Detective Frank Webber (John Longden). An admiring artist who's hand written note requests her presence at a local restaurant leaves Alice searching for ways to break off her date with Frank. I was rather amused by Crewe's (Cyril Ritchard) attempt to entice Alice with his etchings; I always thought that was a lame pick up line, and here it's being used in 1929.

What begins innocently enough quickly spirals into disaster, as Alice must fend off Crewe's advances, and with a knife at arm's reach her defense causes Crewe's death. Shades of "Psycho", the scene is conveyed off screen as an earlier silhouette shows the couple struggling wildly. That's only one of the Hitchcockian conventions used here, there's also the repeated use of a long stairway, it's downward view a precursor to what we'll see again in "Vertigo". Getting back to the knife though, perhaps it might have been too shocking for film audiences to accept back then, but after the struggle, Alice clearly displays the weapon, which has no blood on it! Also, she was wearing only a light colored slip, and there was no indication of a struggle or bloodstains to add grimace to the proceedings.

Donald Calthrop is convincing as the blackmailing schemer Tracy, whose bold plan is to extort both Alice and Frank who has been put on the case. The detective already knows who the killer is, his conflicted willingness to help Alice receives an unwitting boost when Tracy is fingered as a possible suspect in the artist's death. Taken into custody by Scotland Yard, one has to do a double take when the police van has to make a stop, and Tracy simply gets out and runs away! He receives his due though, as he meets his end falling through a skylight at the British Museum.

Loose ended plot points notwithstanding, I found "Blackmail" to be an intriguing film and a worthwhile effort from Alfred Hitchcock. It's not well known and that's unfortunate, as this early look at his directing style is peppered with elements for which he would later become famous, not the least of which is Hitchcock's own cameo on a train in the early part of the story. It's also educational, for example, I learned that in England, a police lineup is called an "Identification Parade"!
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7/10
"Detectives in glass houses shouldn't wave clues"
ackstasis5 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
'Blackmail (1929)' was Hitchcock's first "talkie", though it began life as a silent film, and was subsequently released in a silent version to boost its commercial potential. I have no qualms about remarking on the strokes of Hitchcockian genius already evident in this early work: the icy silences leave an unsettling effect, but Hitchcock also demonstrates a strong mastery of sound, his repetition of the word "knife" perfectly underscoring the heroine's paranoia. A wonderfully mobile camera, perhaps imitating similar shots in 'Seventh Heaven' (1927, Borzage) or 'The Cameraman (1928, Sedgwick),' follows the characters up a double flight of stairs. A disorientating high-angle shot of the heroine descending a spiral stairway is uncannily similar to the belltower shots in 'Vertigo (1958).'

The film's plot concerns Alice (Anny Ondra), who is cheating on her detective boyfriend Frank (John Longden) with a sleazy artist (Cyril Ritchard). During a struggle in which the artist tries to rape her, Alice sticks a kitchen knife into him, and flees the scene of the murder. Frank finds the evidence linking her to the crime, and is determined to cover it up, but the situation is complicated by a two-bit criminal (Donald Calthrop) who knows what's up and sees dollar signs. Everyone in the film is convincing, particularly Calthrop as the shifty blackmailer who you wouldn't trust as far as you could throw him. The ending, too, is a welcome break from the Production Code-enforced contrivances that would later overwhelm Hollywood. Alice escapes all culpability for her crimes, but the accusative laughing face of a painted jester suggests that the crime will always prey on her thoughts.
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8/10
"It's my word against yours"
Steffi_P11 January 2008
This was Hitchcock's – and the British film industry's – first full-length sound feature. While his earlier silent picture The Lodger is most often cited as the first example of what came to be known as "Hitchcockian", Blackmail really looks like the first time he consolidated his style and knew exactly what he wanted to achieve.

Blackmail is not literally "all-talking" – the first six or seven minutes are made up of an introductory silent sequence in which a criminal is hunted down, and this is in fact very well done, utilising all the techniques of tension and visual attention-grabbing that Hitch had perfected in his half-dozen or so preceding silent pictures. In fact, it would become a semi-regular feature throughout the rest of Hitch's career to begin with a little dialogue-free sequence to set the scene – for example the lengthy camera pans at the start of Rear Window (1954) which introduce all the other apartments and provide Jimmy Stewart's character's back-story.

Blackmail is noted for its creative use of sound, although perhaps it was circumstance more than anything else which encouraged Hitchcock to be experimental. The production was begun as a silent, but Hitch suspected it would later be upgraded to a talkie, so he began by shooting around the dialogue scenes, and shot a few with the actors backs to the camera so their voices could be dubbed in later. Also, Anny Ondra's thick accent meant she had to mime to Joan Barry who was reading her lines off set. All this must have given Hitchcock ideas for expressive sound design and off-screen sounds, using sound as a technique in itself, rather than as a whole new format.

It was probably with this film – and his next talkie, Murder! – that Hitchcock realised that crime and suspense were his forte. He appears to be having great fun building up the suspense and stringing out tense situations as far as they will go. It's one of the earliest Hitchcock pictures to really delve into a character's guilt and paranoia. Also very clear is the grisly delight he takes the subject matter. Typical Hitchcockian characters crop up for the first time. There is the sleazy blackmailer who is not appalled by the crime he has witnessed, but simply sees it as a chance to profit. Then there's the murder-obsessed gossip who seems to be a not-so-distant relative of Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), or the housekeeper from Rear Window.

Even more perverse than all this gallows humour is Hitchcock's linking of sex and murder in that first pivotal scene, which really shows off the Hitchcock psychology. Crewe plays an elaborate game in order to get to see Alice in her underwear – but the way Hitchcock has placed the camera, the audience can see her all along! At the end of this scene, in her distraught state Alice still goes behind the screen to get changed even though she is now alone, but Hitchcock makes a mockery of her idea of privacy by placing the camera on her side of the screen. As well as being one of the most telling example of Hitchcock's disrespectful attitude towards his female victims, it hammers home perhaps the most fundamental idea in his approach to film-making – that there are three players involved here – the killer, the victim and the audience.

The story builds up to a tense and satisfying finale which established yet another Hitchcock first – a chase scene featuring a famous landmark, in this case the British museum – an idea suggested by the future director Michael Powell. Although it wouldn't be applied to him for some years yet, this is perhaps the first film where Hitchcock could have earned his nickname "The Master of Suspense". Blackmail does suffer from some of the problems of an early talkie, in particular the dialogue scenes are stilted and long-winded. Overall though it's a good solid effort, a significant Hitchcock and a promise of greater things to come.
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7/10
Hitchcock's guilty woman
lee_eisenberg10 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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6/10
Hitchcock's first sound film
caspian197817 June 2001
One of Hitchcock's early films, it was one of the first films to come out of England with sound during the end of the silent film era. An interesting film, we see several great shots of dolly's with the early staircase scene. Several well shot montages with wonderful dissolves and sound bridges. For 1929, Hitchcock shows the world with the film that he's a talented film maker. A risky scene, the audience gets to watch the main actress of the film undress behind her curtains. While the murder is never seen, the provocative and private scene of her undressing is present. Another interesting note, the main character of the film is the murderer! Throughout the film, the audience judges whether or not she is an innocent murderer or a killer. Hitchcock makes an early name for himself with this film with toying with the audience throughout the suspense of the film.
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7/10
Hitchock's First Talkie
utgard1430 July 2017
Alfred Hitchcock's first talkie is an intriguing film, not entirely successful but still more enjoyable than some of the other films Hitch made around this time. The story starts with a woman cheating on her boyfriend, a Scotland Yard detective. When the man she's with tries to rape her, she kills him in self-defense. Afterwards a criminal who pieces it together blackmails her and her detective boyfriend.

A little creaky but that's to be expected under the circumstances. The film started out being made as a silent before it was decided to turn it into a sound picture. In spots it reverts back to a silent (without intertitles). This actually works in the film's favor. There are some really nicely done lengthy sequences with no dialogue, such as her walk home after she's killed the guy, punctuated by a scream. Good acting all around. Nice direction from Hitch. The museum climax is excellent; an early example of the defining set pieces that would become a Hitchcock trademark. Definitely worth a look if you're a fan. Or even if you're not, provided you enjoy pictures from this period. Not everyone does, unfortunately.
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7/10
Detectives in glass houses
petra_ste27 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It's fascinating to watch early movies by great directors. From the perfect structure of Kubrick's The Killing to the masterful visual storytelling of Spielberg's Duel, from the audacious camera work of Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to the gorgeous composition of Scott's The Duellists, one gets to spy the first hints of genius.

Blackmail was Hitchcock's first talking picture, the story of a young woman who kills a man in self-defense and is later approached by a shady witness who wants money in exchange for his silence, while the protagonist's boyfriend, a Scotland Yard detective, gets involved in the case.

The director's visual talent shines through, with touches like a match-cut between a fingerprint and the face of a suspect, a vertiginous view of a flight of stairs, the quietly sinister way the killing is shot. Blackmail includes also some of Hitch's recurring themes (an ordinary person involved in a crime, the fear of the police which dominates most of the director's work) and his black humour (the leering portrait of an old man who appears to mock the protagonists at their weakest moments).

The movie peaks with the attack and killing halfway through; the last act is weaker. Still, for a picture which is almost 90 years old as I type this, it feels remarkably fresh and well-paced - a sure sign of a master at the helm.

7/10
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8/10
Early Hitch succeeds
gizmomogwai21 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Very few of Hitchcock's British movies (prior to his Americanization in 1940) seem to be mentioned when people count their favourites of his work. In its top 100 greatest films, the BFI included only The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) from Hitchcock, but they both suffer in comparison to his films on AFI's list, like Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and so on. However, recently I bought a DVD of 18 of his British films. Among them is Blackmail from 1929.

Blackmail may have a few flaws. Oddly enough, the first few minutes are silent which confused me since it was supposed to be sound. Lips move, but there's nothing to be heard until later. Still, it doesn't do that much damage to the plot, in which our heroine Alice kills a would-be rapist in self-defence. She then tries to cover it up- although today that would seem needless, another reviewer writes this reflects the bad old days when the attitude was to blame the victim.

Either way, she's traumatized by the incident, as many girls today would be. This is depicted well, and she's a sympathetic character. A sleazy guy attempts to blackmail her and her detective boyfriend, thus giving the movie its title. One of the more interesting things about this is that little is going on sometimes- long pauses, a guy buying and then smoking a cigar, a family dinner- but we can still see the drama unfolding underneath. Hitchcock may have entered his golden age in the '40s and '50s, but this is definitely a watchable early effort.
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7/10
Unquestionably Hitchcock
blanche-229 March 2009
Britain's first talkie, the 1929 "Blackmail," is directed by Alfred Hitchock, and even back then, it has many of his touches. The stars are Anny Ondra, Cyril Ritchard, John Longden, and Sara Allgood.

A young woman (Ondra) two-times her Scotland Yard inspector boyfriend (Longden) and goes out with an artist (Ritchard). Things get rough in his apartment, and he forces himself on her. She kills him (a la Dial M for Murder). Her boyfriend finds her glove in the apartment and realizes she did it; the other glove was found by a criminal hanging around the artist's apartment building, and he decides to blackmail the inspector.

Hitchcock more than appears in this film; he has a bit with a little boy on a subway. The film is strange in that the beginning is silent with no title cards. Then suddenly, there is sound. It moves quite slowly, with not much in the way of action. The story builds slowly, and the scene in the artist's apartment is quite long before anything happens.

Nevertheless, the Hitchcock touches are there. A pivotal scene happens at the British Museum - Hitchcock's upheaval in familiar places. And in the jail scene, there's a sound the director often described as being terrifying in his childhood when his father had the local police teach him a lesson - the jail door closing.

The very pretty Ondra, wife of boxer Max Schmelling, is dubbed here. Ritchard in 1929 is not recognizable as Captain Hook.

Worth seeing - it's early Hitchcock and it's an 80-year-old movie. Mind-boggling.
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7/10
An early Hitchcock must-see!
JohnHowardReid30 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Alfred Hitchock's first sound film, "Blackmail", is actually a part- talkie. In fact, it commences with a lengthy silent sequence which in fact has really nothing at all to do with the subsequent plot.

This movie was once available on at least seven DVD labels. St Clair Vision had the best, a print as sharp and lustrous as the 35mm prints originally presented in theaters in 1929. I don't know if this print is still available, but hopefully it can still be purchased.

Forsaking his usual style of utilizing lots of grays with little or no contrast, Jack Cox's effective camera-work makes great use of blacks and shadows.

All told, the movie more than holds its own against similar Hollywood product at this time. True, Miss Anny Ondra does not always look super-attractive, but that fault likes mostly with her clothes, and particularly with her absolutely ridiculous cloche hat.

The dubbing is very skillful. John Longden comes across okay as the hero, but as usual, the villains (Donald Calthrop and Cyril Ritchard) register with viewers with much more panache than the good guys.
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8/10
A Good Crime Thriller
Rainey-Dawn4 May 2016
Doing some reading on this film, this is Alfred Hitchcock's first talkie film and one of Britain's earliest "all-talkie" feature films (according to the Wiki and other sources). And it's a great talkie at that! This one starts good, goes slow for just a little but for a reason (gloves), then picks back up into a really good crime thriller. In all honesty the ending was a bit of a let down for me. The film was soaring high then the ending just fell flat to me. The whole blackmailer who was already a criminal (been in jail) thing with the cops after him for the murder and Alice not coming out with what happened just fell to the ground for myself. It seems to me they could have done a bit more in the end otherwise this is a good crime thriller but I wasn't overly crazy about the ending.

Yes this Hitchcock classic is worth watching - it is good.

8/10
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7/10
OK story with great cinematography.
nicolechan91617 October 2015
The film incorporates some of German Expressionism which was really obvious in the film. The beginning of the movie itself shows this through the use of lighting and shadows. A recurring theme is the framing of the face with a dark surround, and light shining only on the eyes. This creates a very intense and eerie sort of mood, which consolidate the theme of Expressionism.

The acting is pretty good and both Anny Ondra and John Longden did well. Ondra greatly showed the expressions of a person recently exposed to trauma, and the close-ups of her occupied and fearful expressions emphasize her guilt. Longden first starts off as a pre- occupied character who doesn't pay much attention to Alice, but after the murder he becomes more concerned and does his best to keep her from confessing. I find it interesting that the film goes about different ways to silence Alice. She is never given a chance to tell her story, and hardly gets any input.

The story was average for me, but I guess for that time period it could have been engaging. I felt that it lacked motivation on the part of the blackmailer (Donald Calthrop) and that his character just popped up so suddenly.

The cinematography however was pretty creative. As mentioned before, there was some Expressionistic styles used in the film, and camera placements helped with that. Also, the beginning scene had a really great shot from a mirror that showed a criminal's point of view.

I watched the version of this film with sound recorded, and it was pretty ingenious how sound was synchronized. The voice of Alice is from another actress, and Ondra was miming the words in the film. Though the sound at the beginning of the film is inconsistent and very much like a silent film, it got better throughout the film. Noticeably there was use of ambient noise as well as back shots of characters to eliminate sound synchronization problems. The use of sound to enhance Alice's subjective perception was also a great addition. A obvious example of this is when the neighbour starts gossiping and all Alice hears is "knife blah blah blah knife! blah blah knife!" That was pretty comedic (and annoying after awhile) but could be related to how Alice was hearing things.

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6/10
Blackmail
jboothmillard18 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The Master of Suspense, director Sir Alfred Hitchcock, started making films in 1925, sound was still nonexistent, and this film originally started as silent, but talkies became more popular and this was his first sound picture, and one I had to see. Basically in 1920's London shopkeeper's daughter Alice White (Anny Ondra) has a boyfriend, police Detective Frank Webber (John Longden) who seems more interested in his work than her, but she accepts an invitation to an artist's house. She innocently flirts with artist Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), admires and tries her hand at some painting work, and he asks her to try on a dress that she likes the look of. All of the sudden when she wants to undress and leave he grabs and assaults her, and trying to rape her she grabs a near break knife and stabs him to defend herself, and of course he is dead. Alice did her best to cover up the crime, and of course Frank is the one investigating the murder, and he is shocked to find the only piece of incriminating evidence, one of his girlfriend's gloves, which he hides from the other detectives. He goes to Alice to tell her what he knows about this situation, but they are interrupted by the appearance of petty thief Tracy (Donald Calthrop) who saw her at the artist's flat the night of the murder. The crook is blackmailing them to give him some cash, otherwise he will go to the police and tell them both the identity of the murder and the information Frank is hiding. Of course things go the opposite direction for Tracy when he is chosen as the key suspect for the murder, and being chased by the police through the British Museum he falls to his death through a glass window to the ground. Alice is suffering in her mind thinking about what she has done and almost being pressured to tell the truth, and she does go to Scotland Yard to confess, but Frank escorts her out and that is when the film ends. Also starring Sara Allgood as Mrs. White, Charles Paton as Mr. White, Harvey Braban as The Chief Inspector, Phyllis Monkman as Gossip, Hannah Jones as The Landlady, Percy Parsons as Crook, Johnny Butt as Sergeant, and Hitchcock's cameo (his longest) is as the man on the London Underground reading and being bothered by a boy knocking his hat off. You can tell in many moments that this film started out as silent, including the dubbing of actress Ondra, and the moments without sound effects or dialogue, but it actually works to some effect for the better. Of course the sound use is very stylised as well, I was particularly impressed with the torturous repetition of the word "knife", and there are some good gripping moments, so it's certainly a worthwhile classic thriller. Good!
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7/10
Blackmail
shhimundercoverdamnit11 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Alice (Anny Ondra) and her beau, detective Frank Webber ( John Longden) have a lovers? quarrel at a restaurant, and Alice instead ends up departing with a handsome stranger ( Cyril Ritchard), The stranger, as it turns out, is an artist, and he invites Alice into his studio. After persuading her to put on a costume for him to sketch her, his passion overwhelms him and he attempts to rape her. Alice ends up stabbing him to death with a bread knife. Now, of course who is assigned the case? None other than detective Webber! Of course, things get well let?s say more than just a little complicated when seedy blackmailer gets involved, claiming that he had seen Alice enter the artists quarters.

One of the major issues in the works of Alfred Hitchcock is the disparity between appearance and reality. For example, judgments about what one might consider true and good and the prestige accorded to authorities. One of the clearest examples of this theme, is that the figures of law and order are themselves eminently corruptible. I?m not going to spoil, what detective Webber does, but lets just say, appearances must not be confused with what's really happening.

Blackmail is a film full of dynamic and inventive imagery, The most talked about sequence from this film is probably the breakfast on the morning after the murder. A scene in which, Alice is asked to cut the bread, she picks up the knife while her neighbor babbles on about the murder using the word ? knife? all the time. The neighbors words become softer and softer, but the word knife? stays loud, so when Alice hears knife-the knife jumps out of her hand! And quite typical of Hitchcock, Alice's father replies Ere! You might've cut someone with that!?
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