Blackmail

Released:  1929

Cast:  Anny Ondra, John Longden, Cyril Ritchard

SUMMARY:  Frank Webber (John Longden) is a detective for Scotland Yard in England, who is dating a young woman named Alice White (Anny Ondra).  Frank and Alice quarrel frequently, particularly regarding Frank’s job, which forces him to work long hours.  After one of these arguments, the two go to a tea house together, but Alice is more interested in the artist she had previously agreed to meet there, Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), a painter.  Frank ultimately decides to leave without Alice, but then sees her leave with Crewe.  Crewe and Alice go to Crewe’s apartment, where Alice jokingly paints a face on the canvas laid out.  Crewe adds a body, and both sign the canvas.  He then convinces her to pose for a portrait in a dancer’s tutu, but when he tries to kiss her, Alice shoves him away.  As she is changing out of her costume, Crewe tosses her drewss out of reach; when she goes to retrieve it, he attempts to rape her.  Alice screams, but no one hears; she then reaches out a hand, grabs a bread knife, and kills Crewe.  Almost immediately, Alice seems to go into shock.  However, she composes herself enough to gather her things, punch a hole through a painting of a laughing clown, and paint over her name on the canvas before leaving.  Rather than going home, she wanders aimlessly until morning, when she returns to the house where she lives with her parents.

Meanwhile, the landlady has discovered Crewe’s body and phoned the police.  Frank is one of the detectives assigned to the case, and finds (and recognizes) one of Alice’s gloves at the crime scene.  Rather than report the evidence, Frank keeps the glove and visits Alice.  Alice is still too stunned to speak, but Frank pushes her into a phone booth and shows her the glove.  Unrealized by both of them, somebody else is watching — a man named Tracy, who had also seen Alice go up to Crewe’s apartment.  Tracy has one of Alice’s gloves, and when he sees Frank showing her the other one, he decides to blackmail the pair.  Both Frank and Alice give in to the demands, even though Alice has not confirmed or denied her involvement in the crime to Frank.  Even though Frank is away, the murder investigation continues, and eventually Tracy becomes a suspect.  When Frank learns that the police are looking for Tracy he is elated, and calls them to Alice’s house (where all three are at a standoff).  Just as the police arrive, Tracy escapes through the window.  He goes through the British Museum with the police in pursuit, ultimately climbing on top of the building.  There, he slips and falls to his death.  Frank is rather happy at this occurrence, as the presumed murderer is dead, and the blackmail is still a secret.  However, Alice is unaware that Tracy is dead, and decides to turn herself into the police.  She goes to Scotland Yard, but before she tells her story Frank arrives; when the investigator gets a phone call, he asks Frank to handle Alice.  Alice confesses that she was the murderer, but that it was in self-defense; Frank replies that he already knows.  The two then leave the station together.

MY TAKE:  This is an OLD Hitchcock movie.  Actually, it was originally going to be a silent movie, but halfway through they decided to make it a talkie.  There are still some hints of a silent movie, since quite a few of the crowd scenes don’t have any sound.  Even at this early date though Hitchcock manages some trademark suspense.  I particularly liked the scene where Alice is having breakfast with her family, and all of the conversation is indistinct except for the word “knife”, which comes through loud and clear (and repeatedly).  Interestingly, it’s not Anny Ondra’s voice you hear when Alice is speaking:  Ondra was Czech with a thick accent, and by the time the decision was made to turn the film into a talkie, it was too late to recast.  Instead, Hitchcock got another actress to say the lines off-camera while Ondra lip-synched them.  It actually turned out pretty well.  It’s not the most spectacular Hitchcock film in terms of plot, but then again, the man’s biggest success came 31 years after this film (Psycho, in 1960).  I didn’t understand why Alice didn’t confess from the beginning, since it was a self-defense murder.  I also have trouble thinking that Frank, a seasoned Scotland Yard detective, would just walk away and let somebody else take the rap for the crime.  If he thought it was self-defense, how come they didn’t just cop to the crime?  I did notice that the actual murder scene had a resemblance to the shower scene in Psycho — both occur behind a curtain, and the crime itself is unseen; you just see blood and the aftermath.  This one is not nearly as creepy as the shower scene, but it did make me wonder if this was where Hitchcock’s inspiration came from.

P.S.  He’s the passenger on the bus that’s being pestered by the kid.

RATING:  Okay.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s