Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Blackmail (1929)

It’s usually difficult for me to say that I like a director. With some, their work tends to be similar enough that I can expect certain things from the movie. In other cases, their work may be so varied that it’s hard to tell much of anything about a movie of theirs. Alfred Hitchcock is difficult to pin down for a variety of reasons. I know a few of his works, like North by Northwest. The problem is that his work dates back to the 1920s. His earlier works were made in Great Britain and developed with what was then new technology. While Blackmail was being shot, sound became available for movies. Thus, Blackmail became Hitchcock’s first movie with sound.
The movie starts with Detective Frank Webber and Alice White going on a date. After arguing about what to do afterward, he storms out, leaving her to meet Mr. Crewe. While walking Alice home, Crewe talks Alice into going up to his studio. The two have fun until Crewe tries to kiss Alice. She refuses; he persists and tries to rape Alice, who kills him with a bread knife. She then collects any evidence of her being there and leaves.
Even though it was self defense, she walks around town all night before going home. The next morning, Frank is assigned to the murder of Crewe. He soon realizes that his girlfriend is the prime suspect. He hides what evidence she left behind and goes to confront Alice. After a few minutes, a man named Tracy arrives. He, too, can implicate Alice.
Tracy plays coy. He hints that he might want something, but draws it out for as long as he can. When Tracy realizes that he might not have the upper hand, he runs. After a chase, Tracy ends up taking the fall in more ways than one. Alice feels guilty, but Frank talks her out of confessing, as there’s no need.
The movie is almost 90 years old. I’d say it’s hard to believe, but it’s not really. If you’re coming off TV shows like CSI and Law & Order, Blackmail will seem very simple. Frank and Tracy each have a piece of evidence implicating Alice. Since both pieces of evidence were taken from the scene, I’m not sure how valuable they’ll be. It’s even stated that it would primarily be Tracy’s word against Alice’s. Still, I’m used to seeing the police and prosecutors having to worry about testing and whatnot.
Even the plot seemed a little thin. Frank and Alice’s date seemed a little drawn out. Even Alice’s time with Crewe seemed to take a little too long. The movie is 89 minutes; I spent a lot of those minutes wondering when the action would begin. Most of it is that I’m used to 2-hour movies that are heavy on dialogue and action. Since this was planned as a silent film, the writing style was considerably different.
If you’re looking for a first Hitchcock movie to watch, I’m not sure that this would be a good place to start, especially for a younger viewer. I think it would be too distracting comparing Blackmail to a modern movie. There was one scene where Alice and Crewe were walking up stairs. It seemed fairly obvious that it was a set designed solely for that shot. It’s strange to think how far technology has come, both forensically and theatrically.

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