February 25, 2017


Blackmail – 1929 | 96mins | Thriller| B&W

Plot Synopsis


Alfred Hitchcock entered the sound era Blackmail in 1929. Two versions of the film are known to exist: the first is silent except for the last reel, and the second is completely sound. The story concerns a girl who is in love with a young police officer. During dinner at a large restaurant, Alice flirts with an artist (Cyril Ritchard) who sits at a nearby table. Frank, her detective boyfriend, is not totally pleased by her games, but she enjoys the interest of the artist. When an argument ensues, Frank leaves her to he picked up by the artist and escorted to his flat to see his etchings. After an initial art lesson, in which the artist teaches Alice to draw a nude. she becomes his model for the evening Reconsidering the premise of the film to this point, Alice has flirted with the artist, gone to his flat, and removed most of her clothing in order to put on a flimsy outfit in which to model. It would seem that any negative reactions to the artist’s advances at this point would be only as a bit of morning-after excuse of “I tried to be good but..”. In any case, the artist assumes that any women who has put herself in Alice’s position is interested in more than his etchings and that any negative response on her part is simply a front for actual desires.

For Alice, however, the game has gone too far and her protestations are not only real but on the verge of panic. When the artist does make his move, her reaction is acute, violent, and reflex. The artist is killed with a bread knife as a painting of a jester leers down mockingly as a silent witness. As may be expected by the audience, Frank is assigned to assist in the case. While searching for clues, he finds one of Alice’s gloves and contrary to his Scotland Yard training pockets the clue. When he arrives at Alice’s shop, we find that he does not have the only clue. The other glove is in the possession of a blackmailer. Frank recognises the blackmailer and, remembering him to be a member of the local crime element, phones the station house. Frank explains to the blackmailer that he may be arrested for the crime, and he lees as the police arrive to question him, later to fall to his death during a chase through and above the British Museum.

Alice arrives at the police station ready to confess her part in the crime, but is interrupted several times and finally never gets a chance to tell her story. She is escorted out of the station by Frank without involving herself. The case is closed. In this second film of the true Hitchcock style, we see that there are no truly black or white characters. Alice has put herself in a position in which she would either have to defend herself or give in to the artist’s desires. The artist may or may not have lured Alice into the flat for non artistic motives. The detective has withheld evidence in order to protect Alice whom he assumes is strictly innocent. The blackmailer wants a free meal and a bit of quick cash to forget everything, and the detective has put him in a position for which he dies for his ambitions. Our characters are grey, and the truths and deceptions of crime and justice exist somewhere in a zone of love, desire, survival, and the fates of everyday existence.

To take advantage of the newfangled device which made pictures talk, Hitchcock showed how the repetition of the word knifemade the girl feel guilty about her killing. The word knife is repeated over and over again but in innocuous dialogue such as “Pass the bread knife, please,” until it gnaws at the audience’s nerves. For the chase sequence in the British Museum, he used the forerunner of rear projection, a method involving mirrors and other deceptions to camouflage the lack of real scenery.

ExtractŠ Richard A. Harris, Michael S. Lasky: The Complete Films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Production Team

Alfred Hitchcock: Director
Norman Arnold: Art Director
Wilfred C Arnold: Art Director
Frank Mills: Assistant Director
Jack Cox: Cinematography
Emile de Ruelle: Editing
Harry Stafford: Music
Hubert Bath: Music
John Reynders: Music Direction
John Maxwell: Producer
Benn Levy: Script
Alfred Hitchcock: Script
Michael Powell: Script


Anny Ondra: Alice White
Sara Allgood: Mrs White
Charles Paton: Mr White
John Longden: Frank Webber
Donald Calthrop: Tracy
Cyril Ritchard: The Artist
Hannah Jones: The Landlady
Harvey Braban: Chief Inspector

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