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BLACKMAIL, 1929
Movie Review

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BLACKMAILBLACKMAIL, 1929
Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, Charles Paton
Review by Steven Painter



SYNOPSIS:

Alice White, detective Frank Webber's girlfriend, is invited by an artist to visit his studio. The man tries to rape Alice and she kills him with a knife to defend herself. A criminal sees the murder and he keeps the lady's glove from the crime scene in order to blackmail her. Frank is assigned to the murder case.

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REVIEW:

Of the many accomplishments in Alfred Hitchcock’s career, one that is often overlooked is his movie Blackmail (1929), which is the first British talkie.

Sound first came to movies in the form of Al Jolson singing in The Jazz Singer (1927). When this occurred, movie producers around the world scrambled to get sound into their movies. Alfred Hitchcock had just finished Blackmail for British International when they asked him to re-shoot some scenes with sound so the movie could be the first British sound film.

The biggest drawback of early sound films is their lack of synchronization. Today it is easy to dub vocals in a sound proof booth if something doesn’t turn out right during shooting. Judy Garland would always dub her voice during songs so she could focus on her acting during the regular filming.

When "Blackmail" was made, there was no way to effectively dub voices. This fact needs to be remembered when watching the movie as the sound quality is not good. In fact, to make matters more difficult for Hitchcock, his leading lady was the Polish-Czech Anny Ondra, who had a pronounced accent. This was not a problem when the movie was a silent one, but became huge when sound was desired. Ondra’s lines were spoken by Joan Berry, who was just off camera so the microphones would pick her voice up. This is one of the reasons why the sound is bad in Blackmail.

As for the story, it involves a detective, Frank Webber, who is going out with Ondra’s character, Alice White. The two have a lovers quarrel and Alice storms out of the restaurant the two are having dinner in. Feeling bad, Webber goes outside to apologize to Alice. He ends up outside just in time to see Alice leaving on the arm of some well-dressed stranger.

This stranger happens to be an artist. Alice ends up in the man’s studio and agrees to pose for him. Things progress and the stranger tries to make love. This frightens Alice and in her fear, she grabs a bread knife and kills the stranger.

When word of the murder hits headquarters, Detective Webber puts two and two together, but does nothing about it. He lets Alice know this and everything seems to be repaired in their relationship as they have a little secret. Too bad their secret is known by another person, our blackmailer.

The blackmailer says he saw Alice leave the artist’s studio and wants some assurances from her or he will squeal. Things look a little bleak for the murdering Alice, but Webber steps up again and implicates the blackmailer as the murderer.

A chase ensues. This is the most filmic part of the movie, as sound is not necessary for a chase that takes the blackmailer through the British Museum. He ends up on the roof of the museum and then falls through the glass dome, effectively ending his blackmailing career.

With two murders basically caused because of her, Alice decides to confess. Webber prevents her, allowing the couple to live the rest of their lives together with guilt.

"Blackmail" is a decent movie. The opening sequence is memorable, first because it is completely silent and second because it previews future Hitchcock movies in which routines in life will be shown, as in The Wrong Man. Those expecting a masterpiece of sound will be disappointed.

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