One of Hitchcock's first movies, "Blackmail" is evidence that the great director got better as he career continued and that he liked women much more in his early years. Later in his life, "Hitchcock" rarely had a female lead—this could be due to the fact that he was fixated on the idea of the wrong man...to the point where he actually made a film called "The Wrong Man". It could also be because he found his muse in great actors such as Cary Grant and James Stewart. Yet, he occasionally did split the screen; but that's all it was—splitting the screen. He rarely gave a woman that power that he did in his early years.
Yet for the 1920s and 30s, that in of itself was revolutionary. With "Blackmail" Hitchcock nearly hits gold and when he misses, unfortunately, he misses big.
You have to assume some things when going in to a Hitchcock film. He's not going to tame himself, he's going to show what no other contemporary would, and he's going to try to squeeze as much suspense out of every situation as possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
The movie starts out feeling like a silent film; but Hitchcock soon lets sound in to show the greatness of the new technology (gasp!). He does flaunt the new equipment, having characters sing and whistle as much as possible.
A young man works for the police, his girlfriend, a Mae West type, is not interested in his life. She would rather have casual affairs with strangers...which is what she does. She dumps her guy on a date and goes home with this artist fellow. He's smooth and charming and soon he has her take her clothes off. From there it's a hop, skip, and a jump to attempted rape and not-so-attempted murder.
When he tries to take advantage of her, the young stabs him with a knife—girl power!
Instead of being proud of herself for defending her virtue, the young is then haunted with images of the dead man and death.
Here is where the film is at its best. From a plucky girl to a distraught soul, the woman stumbles along the street, seeing macabre hallucinations in everything. A marquee becomes a hand with a knife and she sees the dead hand of the man hanging from every window, on every street corner.
It's only near the end of the movie that blackmail becomes a part of "Blackmail".
The movie's beginning is pretty sensational. It relies on looks directed right at the camera and sweaty situations. Then, the movie gets as dry as a desert. It sucks up all the voyeuristic joys the viewer holds watching the unfortunate situation unravel.
The next day, the young man is called in to work and he goes to the murder scene. Recognizing his girlfriend, Alice's glove, he immediately returns to her and tries to cover the whole thing up.
It could have been self-defense but the lengths the two went to cover it up are too incriminating.
Then another character shows up, one who proceeds to blackmail the two. Give him money or he'll turn the girl in...simple enough.
The ending shot of "Blackmail" is perfect, filled with madness and guilt. It may take some mighty heavy slogging through to get there.
In its best moments, "Blackmail" is terrifically entertaining. In the bad spots, it drags on far beyond its welcome.
The movie doesn't have enough peril or a good enough villain.
Yet, for what it's worth, the movie features a strong female lead performance and a great use of the sets. Hitchcock has done better.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones