0050: Blackmail (1929)


Rating: 5.5/10

This movie was made when talkies were still so new that they were a little gimmicky, much like, say, a 3D movie might throw something at the screen just to make you jump, some early talkies would have things just to show off the new media. Also, it was still so new that many theaters of the time were still unequipped to play live sound and this movie actually had both types released, one with sound and people talking, and one silent and I assume intertitles though I can’t be sure as I watched the talkie version.

This movie shows many of the tropes you would expect from a silent film, but not as much as you would expect in a talky. For example, the first 10 minutes of the movie don’t have any talking at all, though there are some sounds of people as they walk or a car door slams. After that the first dialogue is spoken and you hear two cops talking about what they want to do later in the day, then one of the detectives leaves and says goodbye to everyone in the building for five minutes of screentime. Then, his wife or girlfriend meets him and they go out to eat where they talk about going to the movies but she doesn’t want to anymore. It’s not that nothing is happening but the plot isn’t moving forward. This is all stuff you might expect in a movie without any actual spoken dialogue, people may be introduced slowly in this way to show you just a bit of their lives before the action actually begins, movies with sound do this too but in entirely different ways. In a talky, the dialogue should be interesting and captivating, in a silent film, you only need “dialogue” as filler to show emotion of your character and you only need an intertitle when somebody says something important. Talkies were still too new to have developed these kinds of techniques, so you see this for what it is, a talkie that probably worked better in its silent version.

Much of the dialogue, like that “goodbye” scene in the beginning, just feels unimportant. Because it was the gimmick of the time, people were excited to see people talking on screen. They could be talking about anything at all. No need to have actual context. No need to move the plot forward, or even backward, just standing perfectly still. Talk about the weather, talk about other movies that the audience could have been watching instead, talk about the ham sandwich you just finished eating. Eventually this movie gets to more interesting things but it still might stop an important conversation suddenly to have an out of place comment about the weather or something similar. It’s distracting, and though I understand that they were still figuring out how a movie with sound should be made, from today’s standards, all I can see is how this movie could have been cut down and really gotten to the meat of it. Everything that is shown in a movie should be something important. It shouldn’t just be fluff for the sake of it.

Anyway, as far as plots go, it was interesting enough. A lady almost gets raped but then she murders the guy. She has to cover everything up so she doesn’t get arrested for being a woman in 1929. I saw much of the style you see in later Alfred Hitchcock movies, and being that this is his first talkie (and the first talkie in Britain) I can forgive it for some of the unnecessary points, but only some as it does distract from the movie more that I would have liked.

Why you should watch it before you die: If your a big fan of early noire movies or Alfred Hitchcock, I would say definitely check this one out. It’s pretty good for an early talkie before they got the form down. If you’re a fan of film history this one might teach you a lot about how they did things back then. One thing I found interesting researching this movie is that the main woman in the film had such a thick Czech accent that they had to dub her with someone else. Since dubbing technology didn’t exist yet, she had to say all her lines just off screen as the actress lip synced to her, just like they do in Singin’ in the Rain.

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