14 November 2008

Hitchcock | Blackmail (silent) (1929)

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

As the story goes, Hitchcock was asked to add a few sound scenes while in the middle of filming Blackmail. Instead, he decided to rework the entire film into a talkie. Even so, he completed the silent version as it was originally intended and it was, in fact, more successful at the box office than its talkie twin (probably due to the fact that not many theaters could handle sound at the time).

Blackmail finally returns us to the territories first explored in The Lodger: crime, guilt, murder. I wonder if it felt like putting on a pair of comfortable shoes for Hitchcock, after spending several years in comedy/melodrama purgatory? He's good at this stuff. Blackmail feels like a nightmare I sometimes have: accidentally -- well, not starting the day intending to -- killing someone, then completely freaking out over what the consequences might be for such a heinous act. I love the scenes after the crime where Alice cannot escape being reminded of what she's done. She constantly sees outstretched hands out on the street, resembling the dead hand of her victim. Her mother wakes her up to the news of the murder. People constantly come into her father's store asking for information on it. Her parents have a bread knife identical to the one she used, and they ask her to use it on a loaf of bread. Her detective boyfriend is put on the case. It's relentless.

One bit I found confusing was how much Det. Frank knew. At the very end, when Alice tells him she's guilty, he looks truly shocked. How could he not have known? What did he think Tracy's blackmail was all about? Why did he steal her glove from the crime scene, then? Was he merely worried that she'd be falsely accused of the crime, thinking she'd left before the man was killed? Maybe the sound version will clear this plot point up?

I'm looking forward to seeing the sound version tomorrow. What will be different? How much did Hitchcock have to reshoot to accommodate the dialogue? I've already created voices for the characters in my head (who all have American accents), so it's going to be odd hearing them speak for real. (6/10)

Watched the region 2 DVD released by Kionwelt in 2002. Same green flashes and bad compression as the movies found in the Early Hitchcock Collection.