Entertainment » Movies


by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 13, 2019

Talk to any film snob, critic, or writer you know, and you're guaranteed to bring up Alfred Hitchcock at one point. Even if you don't feel that his mastery behind the camera always works in a narrative sense, it should go without saying that the director changed filmmaking forever with his career. "Blackmail," his first talkie, is no less a staggering achievement for the utilization of the limited tools available in sound filmmaking in 1929. And not only is it frequently cited as the first British sound feature film, it's a straight-up thrilling picture about the circular nature of fate and God's indifference to humanity. Now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label, this is one of the must-own releases of 2019.

Alice White (Anny Ondra) is the beautiful daughter of a grocer thrust into a dangerous situation after she murders a man who tried to date rape her. Not knowing anyone caught her leaving the man's apartment, Alice runs back to her fiancée Detective Frank Webber (John Longden), who is also now struggling with the horrific news. In comes Tracy (Donald Calthrop), a petty criminal who witnessed Alice entering the scene of the crime and uses blackmail to bend her to his will.

The opening of "Blackmail" is nothing short of a masterwork on Hitchcock's part. It depicts the arrest, booking, and interrogation of a criminal by Scotland Yard in complete silence. When sound finally kicks in, it's to show that it can be used for other things than just moving the plot forward. The opening shot is that of a tire wheel spinning for what seems like hours. It's Hitchcock through and through, because, as one can imagine, this image shows back up before the credits roll. The filmmaker had the unique strength of imbuing his visual motifs with some kind of moral conundrum. This time, it's the direness of fate. And, as usual, that thought is expounded upon with pitch-black comedy.

In an introduction by Noël Simsolo, who was a big admirer of Hitchcock and a filmmaker himself, the viewer is told a really incredible story about the making of "Blackmail." Because of Anny Ondra inability to pull off a Cockney accent, Hitchcock hired Joan Barry to dub over her lines. In 1929, the audio application known as "dubbing" wasn't a technology developed yet. To overcome this obstacle, Hitchcock had Ondra mouth her lines while Barry spoke off-camera. Sure, this makes Ondra's performance seem relatively awkward, but it's indicative of a time when sound filmmaking was still in its infancy. It should come as no surprise that Hitchcock tried things like this to overcome technical limitations.

Available on this Kino Lorber Blu-ray, in addition to a great audio and video presentation, is the silent version of "Blackmail." Whichever version you watch, nothing about the film's plot or movements are lost whether the sound is present or not. Another testament to Hitchcock's mastery. Other special features include:

• Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas
• Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon (Audio)
• Anny Ondra's Screen Test



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