25 March 2007 | mstomaso
Remarkable piece of cinematic history
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.