Blackmail (1929) – reviewed by George

“Blackmail” is Alfred Hitchcock’s 10th film and his 2nd suspense film, after # 3, “The Lodger”. Perhaps more significant – it is his first talkie. The soundtrack is sometimes hard to understand, depending entirely on which actor is speaking. Generally the women’s voices are clearer than the men’s; especially understandable are Hannah Jones as The Landlady and Anny Ondra as Alice White. And yet, funnily enough, the film begins as a silent. Well, the musical soundtrack begins immediately: it was written by Campbell & Connelly, Compiled and Arranged by Robert Bath and Harry Stafford, Played by the British International Symphony Orchestra, Conductor John Reynders, and Recorded by the R.C.A. Photophone System. And it is excellent.
With only music, no dialogue (and no captions), “The Flying Van” is dispatched to a rooming house. On board are at least 9 sergeants, detectives, and regular coppers. Our hero, Detective Frank Webber (John Longden) is one of them. A lot of guys jump out and some of them rush upstairs to arrest a tough-looking guy in bed. He is allowed to dress, then is taken to the van. A quick trip to New Scotland Yard where he is questioned and put through an Identification Parade (lineup), which leads to a woman selecting him as the guilty party. And she is not in a booth, but is on the floor with the Parade and touches the man to indicate that it is he. Then he is charged, fingerprinted, and put in a cell. At this point, (8 minutes in), the movie becomes a talkie. I could ‘t really understand it (it’s very low-volume), but Frank and a mate from the Van chat until 9 minutes 10 seconds in, at which time the volume rises and the first line is spoken: the mate asks Alice, “Good evening, Miss White. How are you?”
Alice and Frank go out on their date, but Frank is called away and Alice falls in with an artist (Cyril Ritchard), who takes her to his flat to show her his paintings. After getting her to change into a costume for posing, he attacks her, and in the struggle she manages to reach a knife, and stab him. He is dead, stretched out across his bed. Alice is horrified and leaves, very much afraid and ashameed. But aha! She is seen by a smalltime crook, Tracy (Donald Calthrop), who proceeds to blackmail her. He goes to her parents’ (Sara Allgood and Charles Paton) tobacco and candy-type shop to confront Alice. He is smug and oily, and keeps cadging more and more: a free cigar, all the money Frank has, a free breakfast at the Whites’ table, but his landlady (Hannah Jones) has identified him for New Scotland Yard, and the search for him is on.
As Tracy understands his position, he flees to the British Museum. Yes, this is the early Hitchcock film that features two stunning shots at the Museum, one of Tracy climbing down a rope past a huge statue (you’ve probably seen a still of this), and one of Tracy’s capture.
Frank is relieved, but there’s a problem. Alice knows her guilt and is determined to confess. What’s a good cop (and a good boyfriend) to do?
From the Play by Charles Bennett, Directed and Adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, Dialogue by Benn Levy.
NOTE: Hitchcock has made cameos in a couple of his films so far (he is listed last in the acting credits on imdb.com), but this is the first time I’ve spotted him. He appears as a man in a public conveyance having his hat pulled by a bratty little boy.

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