Thursday, May 02, 2013

Blackmail (1929)

"Detectives in glass houses shouldn't wave clues."

Beefing on Hitchcock

Alice, the girlfriend of a Scotland Yard detective goes home with a painter after a fight with her boyfriend Frank. When the man attempts to force himself on her, she kills him in self defence. A glove left behind as the only evidence to her guilt, the boyfriend takes it and vows to protect her. The couple is confronted by a man who had her other glove, having taken it after seeing her flee the crime scene. The stranger threatens to blackmail the two, and Frank calls his bluff by phoning for the police. The man flees and a chase occurs, while Alice is overcome with guilt and decides to turn herself in.

Blackmail was Alfred Hitchcock's first "talkie" and definitely holds up better than most early sound films. Initially, he was commissioned to make the film only partly in sound and part silent, a task which Hitchcock found absurd. Instead, he made a silent version and a sound version.

The film has many elements that would become "standards" of most every movie of his, from the sexy blonde, to murder, to sex and criminal lust. Possibly one of the most common themes used by Hitchcock was fear of the law. Most often, he would build suspense around fear of being wrongly accused, but occasionally, such as in Blackmail, the main character would truly be guilty of the crime. The fear element in these cases is that the law would deal punishment despite very understandable and extenuating circumstances.

There really isn't much wrong about this film, excepting maybe that it feels almost too short. Despite having plenty of mystery, suspense and action, it really felt like it all happened too fast from the murder to the resolution. The actual suspense could have been dragged out a little bit longer before the chase, and it wouldn't have hurt the pace at all.

That being said, Blackmail is a perfect example of how and why Alfred Hitchcock is so well known for being a terrific film maker. Despite having never made a film with synchronized sound before, he took to it faster than most every other director of the time, producing a feel far more natural than its peers. While many other film makers were getting ready to give up and retire, he was only really getting started.

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