Blackmail

Alfred Hitchcock, UK 1929, 96 minutes

One of Hitchcock's earlier films, and his first to feature the new-fangled sound on the print technology, this was made just his move to Hollywood, Blackmail unfortunately lacks a good deal of the pace and tight direction that make his greatest works so watchable. However the subject matter is very relevant in todays society and the performances by the leads are outstanding.

A girl (Anna Ondra), who is going steady with her boyfriend - who is a rather dull character - has a chance meeting with a stranger which leads her to accept an invitation to visit the studio of a dodgy looking artist bloke. Unwisely she accepts, but manages to extricate herself from this nasty web of trouble following a tragic sequence of events.

Anna Ondra is delicious as the flighty dame yet the real star is Donald Calthrop as the man who tries to assault her but comes to pay the price. Unfortunately her Eastern European accent was so strong (a problem that did not really affect her earlier silent films) as to be unintelligible thus leading to English actress Joan Barry speaking Ondra's lines off camera. The camerawork is good, with a first-rate chase sequence along the British Museum but overall this just isn't up to the standards of his later films. Nevertheless it certainly ranks highly when compared with films by other directors and just goes to show how high a standard the great director set. Indeed even by this film, the studios had taken over and he is often quoted as saying: "... that was the ending I wanted for Blackmail, but I had to change it for commercial reasons."

Hitchcock was often despised by his actors and he certainly despised them. He often treated his female leads like dirt and publicly ranted about all aspects of the film industry. But beyond all doubt he was the master technician for the greater part of half a century and his voice, profile and directorial touch are unmistakable. Probably his greatest contribution to the business was his remark: "The length of the film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder." Find out for yourself whether this really makes the difference.

"Ondra is excellent as the girl" - Variety

Review by Neil Chue Hong
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97