Blackmail ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Originally conceived as a silent film, Alfred Hitchcock instead delivered Great Britain's first talkie with Blackmail. The silent era sensibilities are still a recognizable influence, and indeed a silent version was released as few cinema theaters were set up to play talkies.

Of the seven features I've watched on this 2-disc set from Mill Creek, Blackmail is the one that feels the most Hitchcockian to me (even above The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps). Anny Ondra is sympathetic yet complex as Alice White, the adulterous wife driven to defend herself with lethal force when her beau attempts to rape her.

Joan Barry recorded Ondra's lines, as her accent (either German or Czech, depending on which IMDb trivia note you read) was considered too thick for British audiences. The softness of Barry's voice meshes quite congruously with Ondra's nuanced facial expressions. I loved the scene where Scotland Yard is in pursuit of blackmailer Tracy, with Alice sitting alone wrestling with her own guilt. Ondra stares intently, her expression never wavering but we know what's going on inside her head and how tormented she feels.

Frank isn't much of a character, though John Longden does what he can with the role. Donald Calthrop gets the better part with the unscrupulous Tracy and Cyril Ritchard is alternately charming and repulsive as the predatory Artist. Still, it's clearly Ondra's show and she carries the film well.

The pacing is terrific, especially the first hour. I was surprised at how quickly the film moves, as I was completely invested in Alice and her sordid situation. The last half hour supplants suspension with pure action, though the final few minutes restore some of that tension with the possibility of Alice's confession.

Ideally, a sexual assault victim would not be coerced into silence though Alice have been with a man she shouldn't have been with in the first place does complicate matters enough that I can appreciate her predicament. Captivating, suspenseful and thrilling...easily one of the most satisfying Hitchcock films I've seen to date.

How Blackmail Entered My Flickchart

Blackmail > American Gangster --> #754
American Gangster features solid performances and some great scenes, but I'm going with Hitchcock's first talkie. Anny Ondra was captivating throughout and it had great pace.

Blackmail < Ponyo --> #754
These two both surprised me as I've been very hit-or-miss with Hitchcock and I generally actively dislike anime, yet I thoroughly enjoyed both of these. Going with Ponyo for being the unlikelier surprise.

Blackmail < Superman (1978) --> #754
I'll never like Lex Luthor or the cop-out ending of Superman, but I enjoy the rest of it just enough to pick it over what is one of few instant favorite Hitchcock movies for me.

Blackmail > National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 --> #659
Loaded Weapon 1 is one of very few National Lampoon movies I actually like, but it's not as strong as Hitchcock's first talkie.

Blackmail > The Hamiltons --> #612
I really liked the premise, setting and mood of The Hamiltons, but I give the edge to Anny Ondra's captivating performance in Blackmail here.

Blackmail > Ghostbusters II --> #589
I kinda like Ghostbusters II (Peter MacNicol was fun to watch in it), but I was much more invested in Blackmail. It gets the nod.

Blackmail < Sweet Home Alabama --> #589
Behold, the power of repeat broadcast viewings on USA: I can't pick against Sweet Home Alabama here despite thinking Blackmail is the more compelling film.

Blackmail < The Horse Whisperer --> #589
I've only seen each of these once; Blackmail within the hour and The Horse Whisperer back in the VHS era. It's stayed with me, though, and it's why I crush on Kristin Scott Thomas.

Blackmail < Punch-Drunk Love --> #589
I don't worship either Hitchcock or Punch-Drunk Love the way many do, but I thoroughly enjoyed both films. I've been surprised how vividly PDL has stayed with me over the last decade.

Blackmail < Will Ferrell: You're Welcome America --> #589
I was captivated by Blackmail and Anny Ondra's performance, but I have to tip my hat to Will Ferrell's live, in-character production. Truly an impressive bit of stage work.

Blackmail > Scott Pilgrim vs. the World --> #587
I know my friends will scoff at me for this, but I'm not as in love with Scott Pilgrim as they are and I was more taken in by Anny Ondra's performance in Blackmail.

Blackmail entered my Flickchart at #587/1507