Monday, November 30, 2009

First British talkie was Hitchcock movie ahead of its time

Blackmail (1929)
Starring: Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, Charles Paton, and John Longden
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

In "Blackmail", Alice (Ondra) kills a man as he attempts to rape her. A unscrupulous witness (Paton) tries to blackmail her, as she wants to keep the incident secret for the obvious reasons. Matters are complicated even further by the fact that she is in a relationship with a police detective (Longden).

"Blackmail" is recognized as Britain's first "talkie." It started as a silent flick, but director Alfred Hitchcock reworked it in midshoot to take advantage of the new technological advancements. What's truly remarkable about "Blackmail" is that it seems more modern in nature that some films that started as talkies yet still seemed stuck in the silent movie era (such as the Lugosi-starring "Murders in the Rue Morgue" from Universal, which I review here).

The acting in the film is excellent, and actually rather unusual for the time. Further, the use of sound is fantastic. Hitchcock does far more than simply add voices to his actors... he uses sound to advance the story and the mood of the film. (There's a particularly impressive breakfast scene where the traumatized Anna hears only incoherent babble--except the words that remind her of the murder she committed standing out with crystal clarity).

Visually, the film is also worth seeing for its climax. There's a chase scene in a library that is so stylistically impressive that I'm surprised it hasn't been mimicked more. It's on par with the famous "steps scene" from "Battleship Potemkin".

"Blackmail" is a thrilling movie that was well ahead of its time. I think it's worth seeing for any movie buff.