BLACKMAIL - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





UK, 1929


Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Production: British International Pictures, black and white, 35mm; running time: 96 minutes. Released 1929. Filmed in studios in London and on location in the British Museum.

Producer: John Maxwell; screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Bennett, Benn W. Levy, and Garnett Weston; from the play by Charles Bennett; photography: Jack Cox; editor: Emile Ruello; production design: Wilfred C. Arnold and Norman Arnold; music: Campbell and Connely, finished and arranged by Hubert Bath and Henry Stafford, performed by the British Symphony Orchestra under the direction of John Reynders.


Cast: Anny Ondra ( Alice White ); Sara Allgood ( Mrs. White ); John Longden ( Frank Webber ); Charles Paton ( Mr. White ); Donald Calthrop ( Tracy ); Cyril Ritchard ( The artist ).


Publications


Books:

Noble, Peter, An Index to the Creative Work of Alfred Hitchcock , supplement to Sight and Sound , index series, London, 1949.

Amengual, Barthélemy, and Raymond Borde, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1957.

Rohmer, Eric, and Claude Chabrol, Hitchcock , Paris, 1957.

Bogdanovich, Peter, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1962.

Perry, George, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1965.

Wood, Robin, Hitchcock's Films , London, 1965.

Truffaut, François, Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock , Paris, 1966; as Hitchcock , New York, 1985.

La Valley, Albert J., editor, Focus on Hitchcock , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.

Durgnat, Raymond, The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock; or, The Plain Man's Hitchcock , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974.

Yacowar, Hamden, Hitchcock's British Films , Hamden, Connecticut, 1977.

Taylor, John Russell, Hitch , London and New York, 1978.

Bellour, Raymond, L'Analyse du film , Paris, 1979.

Hemmeter, Thomas M., Hitchcock the Stylist , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Bazin, André, The Cinema of Cruelty: From Buñuel to Hitchcock , New York, 1982.

Narboni, Jean, editor, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1982.

Rothman, William, Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982.

Villien, Bruno, Hitchcock , Paris, 1982.

Weis, Elisabeth, The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track , Rutherford, New Jersey, 1982.

Spoto, Donald, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius , New York, 1982; London, 1983.

Phillips, Gene D., Alfred Hitchcock , Boston, 1984.

Barbier, Philippe, and Jacques Moreau, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1985.

Douchet, Jean, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1985.

Dentelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, A Hitchcock Reader , Ames, Iowa, 1986.

Hogan, David J., Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1986.

Humphries, Patrick, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , Greenwich, Connecticut, 1986.

Kloppenburg, Josef, Die dramaturgische Funktion der Musik in Filmen Alfred Hitchcock , Munich, 1986.

Ryall, Tom, Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema , London, 1986.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1986.

Modleski, Tania, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory , New York, 1988.


Articles:

Variety , 10 July 1929.

Marshall, Ernest, in New York Times , 14 July 1929.

MacPherson, Kenneth, in Close Up (London), October 1929.

Variety , 9 October 1929.

"My Own Methods," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1937.

Maloney, Russell, "Alfred Joseph Hitchcock," in New Yorker , 10 September 1938.

Anderson, Lindsay, "Alfred Hitchcock," in Sequence (London), Autumn 1949.

"Hitchcock Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1953.

"Hitchcock Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August-September 1956.

Higham, Charles, "Hitchcock's World," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1962–63.

Vernilye, Jerry, "An Alfred Hitchcock Index," in Films in Review (New York), April 1966.

Bond, Kirk, "The Other Alfred Hitchcock," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1966.

Beylie, Claude, "4 Inedits d'Alfred Hitchcock," in Ecran (Paris), November 1976.

Lefèvre, Raymond, "Les Premiers films parlants d'Alfred Hitchcock," in Cinema 76 (Paris), November 1976.

Dagneau, G., "Sur 4 Films d'Hitchcock," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), December 1976.

Dahan, L., "4 films anglais d'Hitchcock," in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1977.

Linderman, Deborah, "The Screen in Hitchcock's Blackmail ," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 4, no. 1, 1980.

Magill's Survey of Cinema 1 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Barr, Charles, " Blackmail: Silent and Sound," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1983.

Poague, Leland, "Criticism and/as History: Rereading Blackmail ," in A Hitchcock Reader , edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, Ames, Iowa, 1986.

Wood, Robin, "Symmetry, Closure, Disruption," in Cineaction (Toronto), Winter 1988–89.

Eyuboglu, S., "The Authorial Text and Postmodernism: Hitchcock's Blackmail ," in Screen (Oxford), no. 1, 1991.

Reincke, N., "Antidote to Dominance: Women's Laughter as Counteraction," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), no. 4, 1991.

Eyübǒglu, S., "The Authorial Text and Postmodernism: Hitchcock's Blackmail ," in Screen (Oxford), vol. 32, no. 1, Spring 1991.

Boschi, A., "Like Raisins in a Bun: le due versioni di Blackmail ," in Cinema & Cinema (Bologna), January-April 1992.


* * *


Hitchcock's last silent film, Blackmail was also his first sound effort—and one of the first British "talkies" as well. A resounding popular and critical success, Blackmail prefigures some of the director's most famous themes and demonstrates techniques for which he would be noted.

As critic Eric Rohmer points out, the entire film "focuses on the relationships among characters." Victims and victimizers alternate from scene to scene (a technique Hitchock would later perfect in his 1951 film Strangers on a Train ). Sometimes within a single shot, for example, the moral positions of the characters shift, while the placement of the characters illustrates visually the relationship that we also know from context. As many other critics have detailed, this type of shift is "pure Hitchcock": scenes such as those between the blackmailer and the detective parallel scenes from the director's future work, most notably the relationship between a tennis pro and his psychotic "fan" in Strangers on a Train. This visual affirmation of moral ambiguity and transfer of guilt combines with other elements— such as the use of cinematic means to direct point of view, often at the expense of a linear storyline—that would later be considered typical of Hitchcock's films. The thematic concerns of Blackmail also appear in Hitchcock's Hollywood period, for example, the depiction of a woman's torments, as in Suspicion. Blackmail demonstrates an intriguing use of sound, especially since it was originally conceived and produced as a silent film. One notable example occurs in the use of sound for scene-to-scene continuity: the protagonist's shriek becomes the basis for transition to the next scene in which a charwoman finds a dead body. (This technique, too, was incorporated into another film, The Thirty-Nine Steps. ) Even in this very early sound venture, Hitchcock's awareness of the possibilities of sound represents a major experimental advance in his ability to "make the inexpressible tangible."

Hitchcock said that he used a good many trick shots in the picture. During a sequence in the British Museum, he told Francois Truffaut, "we used the Shüfftan process because there wasn't enough light in the museum to shoot there. You set a mirror at an angle of 45 degrees and you reflect a full picture of the British Museum in it." Hitchcock had nine of the pictures made, showing various rooms. But the producers knew nothing of the Shüfftan process, and since they might have objected, Hitchcock performed his magic without their knowledge.

Blackmail has an important place in cinematic and Hitchcockian film history. Not only is it one of the first British talking pictures, but it is also a prototype for Hitchcock films to follow in terms of theme, the use of sound and cinematic style. Blackmail initiated the suspense sub-genre many call the "Hitchcock film," while innovatively transforming use of the then new sound medium within an established visual style and in the service of unique thematic purposes.

—Deborah H. Holdstein

Also read article about Blackmail from Wikipedia

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