Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, Charles Paton
Tag line: "See and Hear It - Our Mother Tongue As It Should Be Spoken"
Trivia: Michael Powell claims to have suggested the use of The British Museum as the location for the final pursuit, thus beginning Alfred Hitchcock's use of famous landmarks in his "chase" films
1929’s Blackmail was a landmark film. Along with being Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound movie, it’s also recognized as the first "all-talkie" ever produced in Britain (to that point, the few sound films that existed were either dubbed after the fact, or co-productions with another country).
One night, Alice (Amy Ondra), who’s been dating Detective Frank Webber (John Longden) of Scotland Yard, decides to ditch her boyfriend so that she can spend an evening with an Artist (Cyril Ritchard). Things fall apart, however, when the Artist invites Alice up to his apartment, and, once there, tries to rape her. While struggling to break free, Alice grabs hold of a bread knife and stabs the Artist to death. Frightened and confused, she quietly sneaks out of the apartment and heads for home. The next day, when the Artist’s landlady (Hannah Jones) discovers his body, she calls the police, and Frank is assigned to the case. When he finds Alice’s glove at the scene of the crime, Frank, who knew she was with another man the night before, fears she might be mixed up in the killing, and hides it before anyone can see it. Unfortunately, a shady character by the name of Tracy (Donald Calthrop) saw Alice with the Artist prior to the killing, and tries to extort money from her in exchange for his silence.
As with any Hitchcock film, Blackmail features a number of visually stunning scenes; the opening sequence, during which we tag along with the boys of Scotland Yard as they apprehend a wanted criminal (Percy Parsons), is incredibly well-shot, as is the film’s grand finale, which takes place inside the British Museum. But what makes Blackmail so fascinating is how well Hitchcock also utilized sound, despite the fact he was doing so for the very first time and had no experience whatsoever with it. The morning after the killing, Alice sits down to breakfast with her family, who are discussing the murder. Unable to concentrate on what’s being said, she hears only the word “knife” repeated over and over again, as if her subconscious was reminding her of the crime she committed.
In the end, Blackmail proved the best of both worlds, a movie filled with one great image after another that, at the same time, utilizes sound perfectly to move its story forward. The fact that it's the first British picture ever to combine the two makes this accomplishment all the more amazing.