Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forgotten Movies: Blackmail (Silent version)


It was my great privilege to see a new print of the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 film BLACKMAIL last Friday. The Alloy Orchestra enhanced the experience greatly by playing the music for the 79 minute film. If you've never heard them play background to a film you've missed something special.
I also can't say enough about how riveting this film was.
For the first time, I understood why some people had trouble adjusting to sound. This film was all about faces, shadows, shots. The viewer needed very little help in following the plot. And the final scenes in the British Museum were terrific. This film for me, demonstrates how great a director Hitchcock was because they are simply no dull spots.

The plot is simple. A man attempts to seduce a young girl and she defends herself. A man spots her fleeing the scene and tries to blackmail the girl. The tables are turned by the end.

The plot is not the thing though. The beauty of their faces and A.H. shots make this movie.
Hitchcock made two versions of this film because sound machinery was not yet widely available. Many people find this to be the superior version. I can't imagine otherwise.


Cullen Gallagher said...

I'm jealous! I would have loved to see this on the big screen with The Alloy Orchestra. Both versions of BLACKMAIL are terrific, but I think I'd agree with you that the silent version is superior.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I saw the sound version over 20 years ago and at the time thought it good but not great. Judging by your review and what I've read and seeing the murder scene (check yourtube) I'd guess you're probably right.

Incidentally, the artist was played by Cyril Ritchard, who gained fame as Captain Hook opposite Mary Martin's Peter Pan 25 years later.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Cullen-They played all weekend with various offerings. Wish I could have seen them all.
Jeff-I saw the name but didn't recognize him without all the pirate gear.

Anonymous said...

Patti - I'm a Hitchcock fan, and your post reminds me of why. He used imagery and suggestion to ratchet up the suspense (but not the violence or gore) in ways that very few other filmmakers have ever come close to achieving.

michael said...

One of the unique experience of silent movies must have been the music. Most (many?) theaters had their own organist. Imagine how that might have changed your reaction to the film going from theater to theater.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There is still a theater in the Detroit area that sometimes does this. Yes, another occupation that must have employed a significant number now gone. Long gone.

Ron Scheer said...

Count me envious as well. There was a big theatre organ in a movie house in Grand Island, Nebraska, when I was a kid (1940s), and there would be a rousing performance on it between screenings as a regular part of the show. Incredible sound.

The crappy resolution of silent film prints today makes it hard to realize how truly stunning they were when fresh and new. Thanks, Patti.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This print was pristine. I am sure it is making its way around. Look for it.