Blackmail (1929) Review


OK story with great cinematography.


Alice (Anny Ondra) is out with fiancé Frank (John Longden) but had made prior plans with The Artist (Cyril Ritchard) who had promised to meet her in the restaurant. When she finally sees him, Alice decides to blow Frank off without an explanation which makes him mad enough to leave, and she happily meets with The Artist. When Alice goes to his flat, he tries to get his way with her and in self-defence, Alice stabs him with a knife. Frank, is one of the detectives assigned to the case, and soon figures out she is the killer, but so has someone-else. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The film incorporates some of German Expressionism which was really obvious in the film. The beginning of the movie itself shows this through the use of lighting and shadows. A recurring theme is the framing of the face with a dark surround, and light shining only on the eyes. This creates a very intense and eerie sort of mood, which consolidate the theme of Expressionism.

The acting is pretty good and both Anny Ondra and John Longden did well. Ondra greatly showed the expressions of a person recently exposed to trauma, and the close-ups of her occupied and fearful expressions emphasize her guilt. Longden first starts off as a pre-occupied character who doesn’t pay much attention to Alice, but after the murder he becomes more concerned and does his best to keep her from confessing. I find it interesting that the film goes about different ways to silence Alice. She is never given a chance to tell her story, and hardly gets any input.

The story was average for me, but I guess for that time period it could have been engaging. I felt that it lacked motivation on the part of the blackmailer (Donald Calthrop) and that his character just popped up so suddenly.

The cinematography however was pretty creative. As mentioned before, there was some Expressionistic styles used in the film, and camera placements helped with that. Also, the beginning scene had a really great shot from a mirror that showed a criminal’s point of view.

I watched the version of this film with sound recorded, and it was pretty ingenious how sound was synchronized. The voice of Alice is from another actress, and Ondra was miming the words in the film. Though the sound at the beginning of the film is inconsistent and very much like a silent film, it got better throughout the film. Noticeably there was use of ambient noise as well as back shots of characters to eliminate sound synchronization problems. The use of sound to enhance Alice’s subjective perception was also a great addition. A obvious example of this is when the neighbour starts gossiping and all Alice hears is “knife blah blah blah knife! blah blah knife!” That was pretty comedic (and annoying after awhile) but could be related to how Alice was hearing things.

To sum-up:
PROS: Acting, cinematography, sound creativity
CONS: No motivation

I give this a 7/10.

Have you seen Blackmail? Rate it out of 5 stars above or leave a comment below!


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