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Blackmail [1929)

A tightly-wound masterpiece.  Concision of expression.

Early Hitchcock at his finest.

In more ways than one, this film starts silently.  Foley artists.  A klaxon here and there.

And then all of a sudden we have entered the era of loosely-synched talkies.

It is quite a shock.  We realize how much we have come to depend on sound and dialogue.

But this film holds its own as images alone.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how virtually-verbose a moving picture?

John Longden evokes our sympathy in many ways.  The jilted lover.  And finally, we descend into a dark place with his character Frank Webber.

A bit of gossip gives us all the context we need:  these were not the times when a woman could easily claim self-defense in the instance of a rape.  In the course of defending herself, Anny Ondra took a life.  We take it from context that her promiscuous presence in the room of a man after hours would be looked down upon in a court of law at that time (though that should have nothing to do with a just dispensation of the legal process).

No doubt, Ondra’s character is a prevaricating adventuress, but when it comes down to brass tacks she’s not a floozy at heart.  Poor Cyril Ritchard shan’t be painting any more saltimbanques any time soon!

We really don’t see it coming.  That is the brilliance of Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène.  Mr. Crewe (Ritchard) is as charming as Hoagy Carmichael until he gets a little too frisky.

And so Anny Ondra must walk the foggy streets of London with her beestung lips like Clara Bow meets Raskolnikov.

In an instant Frank goes from law enforcer to wrong side of the law, but it is out of love.  He knows.

Enter Donald Calthrop.  Oh how the tables turn for his character Tracy.  One moment he is smoking the finest cigar…sopping up runny yolk and savoring his blackmailed breakfast.  The next he is the prime suspect.  As in chess, several moves ahead are needed.  Overall, one cannot account for everything.  And so this is in some ways the rags to rags story of a criminal named Tracy.  To be sure:  the wrong man!

Alice (Ondra) nearly turns herself in.  She is one telephone call too late.  Fate intercedes.  It is as if blind justice, with her svelte legs, has sensed the order which must be restored.

Now…back in your seat, Jacques Carter:  I’m reading!

-PD

2 responses to “Blackmail [1929)

  1. I was forced to watch this in film school so I’m not sure I appreciated it. Your reviews are refreshing in form and make me want to reconsider Blackmail

    • Aw, thanks! It’s funny how much a capital letter can mean…for instance, “Your reviews…make me want to reconsider blackmail.” Ha! For a second I imagined a crime-espousing advice columnist!! Thank you very much for your comment! That’s very kind of you. –Paul

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