15 November 2008

Hitchcock | Blackmail (1929)

Blackmail (1929)
written by Alfred Hitchcock, Benn W. Levy and an uncredited Michael Powell, based on a play by Charles Bennett

For the first eight minutes, this sound version is identical to the silent version. There's no soundtrack other than the new musical score. This creates a small amount of suspense which I suspect was much larger for the audiences at the time: when's this newfangled talking picture going to start talking?

When it begins to speak, Hitchcock seems to have immediate grasp of many of the possibilities of the new medium. There's the oft-mentioned knife scene, in which all Alice can hear coming out of a gossipy customer's mouth is "murmur-mumble-KNIFE-mumble-KNIFE." It's a nice way to emphasis the state of mind Alice is in at that moment. There are also multiple instances of people whistling, the artist plays and sings a song while trying to seduce Alice, Alice now owns a canary that sings joyfully during her grim morning after the murder, and cars constantly honk their horns. Yes, someone was definitely having fun on set with the car horn beeper.

The ending of this one is different than the silent version. It's almost happier. I was confused over the silent version's ending: it looked like Frank was surprised when Alice admitted her guilt and he does not reply to this revelation. I wonder if Hitchcock used the sound reshoots to make this clearer? Now, we get a complete explanation out of Alice -- she had no choice, he was trying to take advantage of her, etc. -- and Frank tells her that he already knew. His expression is not so much horror in this version but depression. The sound version of Frank is looking at many years of supporting his girlfriend through this trauma; the silent Frank just looks like he wants to go to the bathroom and vomit.

I hate to be one of "those people," but the silent version is slightly better. I prefer the grimmer ending in the silent version. (6/10)

Watched the region 2 DVD released by Kionwelt in 2002. Strangely, the print for the sound version is in worse shape than the one for the silent version. You'd think it'd be the other way around, giving the historical significance of the sound version. Bad compression on this one as well.