Blackmail ★★★★½

Note: this is a review of the silent version of this film, for part 2 of Hitchcock rewatches.

Key scene: 1 hr 10: Alice stands and the window casts an evocative shadow across her neck.

Despite this being logged as simply a variant of the better known sound film (which I reviewed last year), it is simply not true to assume it is exactly the same. There are some cast changes (the neighbour, the chief inspector). There is a completely different composition for the pivotal scene in which Anny Ondra's leading lady fights against her attacker, and the famous 'knife' scene.

So I remain irritated that this is thought to be the same film as the sound version, when it isn't. For me, the lesser-known silent version has more tension and atmosphere, without being affected by the choice of accents utilised by the actors (or in the case of Miss Ondra, by the posh tones of the actress who dubs her).

Music, though, makes many a silent film. The last time I watched the silent version of Blackmail was with a full orchestra. This time it is on the German DVD with a piano score; nice enough, but a little boring, and of course the film is here in its unrestored state, rather than the cleaned-up version which the BFI did as part of their Hitchcock 9 appeal (oddly, only one of which, 'The Lodger', has made it to DVD, with 'Downhill' also getting a TV screening).

In acting terms, John Longden's policeman still feels far too old for Ondra's flapper (although excellent, especially in the scene with the glove), but Donald Calthrop's sinister blackmailer has a streak of smirking evil which has echoes many years later in Robert Walker's Bruno Anthony of 'Strangers on a Train'. Cyril Ritchard, in contrast, is slightly more unpleasant in this version than in the sound one, not simply a cad.

This was Hitch's last silent before finding his feet as a British director of the first rank, and finally fame across the Atlantic. He plays with many of the motifs of menace which recur in later films: the trapped female, the hidden secret, the awkward romance.

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