Hitchcock 9 Report, Part 1: Blackmail

Friday night


A beautiful young woman ditches her boyfriend (a Scotland Yard detective), flirts with another man, then kills him in self-defense. The next morning she's at the mercy of a blackmailer. Alfred Hitchcock's tenth feature and second thriller already shows touches of the master. Her night wanderings after the incident, her reaction to casual gossip about the murder, and the blackmailer's breakfast prove that even this early, Hitchcock could keep us on the edge of our seats. A few early scenes go on too long, but this is still the Master in training. The ending is morally ambiguous. And let's not forget the painting of the jester with the menacing laugh.

Blackmail was Hitchcock's last silent and first talkie (in fact, it was England's first talkie). He made two versions to accommodate theaters with and without sound–a common practice in those days, similar to today's practice of releasing a movie in 3D and 2D. I've seen both versions of Blackmail, and the silent one (which is what I saw Friday) works best, thanks largely to better pacing. The talking version has several dialog sequences that just go on too long. On the other hand, the talkie version has a brilliant sequence where the work knife is repeated over and over, with the heroine wincing every time. Hitchcock was already experimenting with sound.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra did a fine score that serviced the film well. I wouldn't list it among their best scores, but it supported the film well. The restoration looked fine, but was well below such silent restorations as Wings and most of Metropolis.