Friday, November 11, 2011

Film #83: Blackmail (1929)

Girls just wanna have fun. That’s all they really want. 
Even in 1929.
Take Alice White. She’s a hot-to-trot flapper with a mug of flowers, stopping traffic with her walk and causing blushin’ with her talk. 
That’s the kind of girl you don’t keep waiting, but someone forgot to tell her flatfoot boyfriend Frank Webber. Frank is a police detective with a mind more for handcuffs than hand-holding, and it is just the last straw for Alice when Frank keeps her waiting on their date for hours while wrapping up work.

Oh pish-posh, Frank says. Job comes first over women, and besides, he showed up eventually. You could hear the steam sizzling behind Alice’s tiny painted lips.

Sitting in the restaurant on their date, bored to tears, Alice decides to defect. A gentleman caller offered to meet Alice at that very restaurant if she was interested. An ARTIST gentleman caller, you know the kind who probably puts kissing ahead of criminals. She decides to go for it.

 After a quarrel sends Frank out the door, Alice makes off with the dashing artist sitting just tables away.  Coming to his senses on the pending dateless night ahead of him, Frank returns just in time to see Alice walking away with the male stranger.
The loose hussy! The harlot! The tramp!

Back at the artist’s front stairs, Alice reluctantly agrees to go into his apartment to view his “artwork.” A girl can sense after all if a gentleman will remain a gentleman in private company, she says. Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh. 
After a few drinks and a Ghost-style painting session, Alice decides she wants to pose for one of the Artist’s paintings. Oh, but it requires her to strip down to her bloomers and wear a lingerie-type outfit. Just like on American’s Next Top Model!

She puts on the outfit, but is put off when the Artist tries to cop a feel. What would HER cop think! Having second thoughts on the affair, Alice backs off and decides to leave. All fun aside, Frank is still her man.
 Well, the Artist doesn’t like that. Not at all. He’s ready to dip his brush in some ink! And, seems he never heard that no means no. 
Attacking Alice as she takes off the lingerie outfit, the Artist starts with the funny business to Alice’s screams. In an act of desperation, Alice reaches out, finds a knife, and stabs the Artist repeatedly until he falls dead to the ground.

So much for that fun. Alice is now a murderer, and panics to cover up any evidence that she was at the scene of the stab. She does a great job too… except when leaving the artist’s apartment. 
A crusty hobo beggar happens to see her leave, and once police find the body, hobo attempts to track down Alice in order to Blackmail her into some simple pleasures.

Ironically, Frank is put on the murder case. After recognizing the dead artist from the restaurant, and finding Alice’s glove under a painting, he puts two and two together. 

The love of his life is a murderer AND a slut! When Frank goes to Alice’s work to question her, he finds her paralyzed with guilt and fear.   
Just as he commits to helping her hide involvement in the crime, our friend the spying hobo waltzes in.

 He knows who done what to who and how, and if Frank and Alice want him to keep his big yapper shut, they are gonna owe him a thing or two. Like some cash, and some dinner, and some cigars and some…
It’s BLACKMAIL! And with that, the psychological drama and tension starts to boil over.

Will Alice be found out by the cops?
Will enough cigars and chicken persuade the hobo to zip his lips?
Can you yell MOVIE in a crowded firehouse?
Find out, in the film that launched director Alfred Hitchcock’s career, 1929’s “Blackmail.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 3.9
Chris Dimick snitches:
“Alfred Hitchcock was Alfred Hitchcock before he knew who Alfred Hitchcock even was. The proof is in Blackmail.

This was Hitch’s first full length film, shot in 1929 when he was just 30 years old. Yet it fits both the style and themes of some of his best work in the 1950s and early 60s. Stunning blonde, conflicted Heroine? Check. Molasses thick tension based on human interaction? Check. Murder, plotting, and psychological drama? Check. Wicked inventive camera angles and dramatic use of light. Check. Dramatic ending in a larger than life setting (this time the British Museum of History)? Double check!
It takes some artists a lifetime of work to distinguish their creative voice and style. Surprising it seems Hitchcock had this sorted out from the start.

Through filmed in 1929, Blackmail feels like a film from the 1950s. All the credit can go to Hitchcock, who is a master of taking a sticky situation and bleeding every ounce of dramatic sap from it. 
There are many times during Blackmail you nearly scream out “that is so Hitchcock!”

In one shot, Alice and the Artist descend up his apartment stairs three stories, all while talking about how smart Alice is to trust him. What could have been a standard scene is transformed by Hitchcock into a thrilling sequence. 

The camera follows the stair climbers by ascending straight up, costing through rafters and other barriers as the characters ascend in a methodic and rhythmic pace. The shot portrays a sense of foreboding… that Alice probably shouldn’t be going all the way up to that strange man’s apartment after all.

After Alice slays her attacker with the knife, she is dazed and near manic. Hitchcock helps the audience feel her disorientation by wheeling the camera about as Alice staggers around the room trying to hide evidence of her crime. 
This is like nothing filmed in the 1920s, and a uniquely Hitchcock device of using strange camera angles to portray emotion.
Even at 30, you could tell Hitchcock was obsessed with each image in this film and worked hard to get it right. He even appeared briefly as an extra… which would become a Where’s Alfred signature gimmick in all of his films.

There's Alfred on the left! Fat even at 30.
 This movie is horrifying, but not because of spooks or serial killers or monsters. The horror is psychological, and lies in the fear Alice holds from both being attacked and then killing her attacker. 
The master of psychological spooky suspense strikes again. Alfred, you knew you before we ever did. 
But now that we’ve met, we’ll surely never forget.

N-Rating: 3.0
Nick Rich snitches:
“I'm not ashamed to say, I'm not a huge Hitchcock fan. There's a very good reason for that: I haven't seen many of his films. Sure, I've seen The Birds and Psycho... but beyond that, I've seen maybe one or two more of his films... which, technically speaking, makes me a bit lame.

Yup. That's me.
Now, sure, I've seen two of his most popular (and arguably?) best films, but in my defense I was way to young to appreciate them beyond the level of 'oh, that's interesting'. If I ever have the time or inclination to start wading through the decades of work that ol' Alfred churned out I'm certain I will be the better for it... after all, everyone keeps talking about how bomb-diggity he is!

Apparently a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock... from the front.
Does anyone else relate to this state of Hitchcock exposure? Are you also just assuming he's awesome when you've only seen one (or two) of his films, which didn't rock your world but was 'interesting', yet you're willing to trust the wider world opinion and toss him in the 'things that rock' column of life? I mean, there's so much to do in life, sometimes we can't get around to everything so we just take some things on faith without experiencing them and move on. Am I alone here? Do I actually expect an answer to that question? For that matter, is anyone actually reading this post?

(Crickets chirping)
Back to Alfred and more specifically, Blackmail.
Frankly, I thought this film was decent. There were a few things that made me think 'interesting' in it (much like my other Hitchcock experiences) and some scenes that were a bit tense. The pace was a tad slow for my tastes, but as it was made in 1929 I gave it a break as it was a breakneck speed compared to other films I've experienced from the 20s (note: this still didn't make it a cakewalk to watch in the slow times). It definitely felt like a film ahead of its time, especially with the silent film vibe, but the vast majority of modern audiences would find this film downright boring... although, I suppose there's really no chance of a modern audience accidentally stumbling across this film, so that may be a moot point.

I feel like we've been here before... are we driving in circles?
When all is said and done, like Chris I honestly want to be able to say "Alfred Hitchcock was Alfred Hitchcock before he knew who Alfred Hitchcock even was." But at this time in my journey of life I can't honestly get there... and I'm ok with that. I look forward to some future time in my life when I'll meet Alfred in a darkened room and we will share many tense and memorable moments together where I'll get to know and appreciate his 'genius' more. After all... how many times have you said 'what I wouldn't give to experience that for that first time again'?

P.S. I've shared something personal and revealing about myself with you in this post... I trust you won't use this information to blackmail me... what would Alfred have to say about that?

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you're a film geek... or if you have aspirations of being a film geek... or if you like bloomers.”

Things We Learned from Blackmail:
-It’s not polite to be beastly.
-The Cheesecake Factory has cut-throat seating.
-Always wear pants when you go to jail.
-Police used telegraphs in their paddy wagons.
-Line ups are called identification parades in England.
-Beggars are called spongers there as well.
-Never trust anyone who says “Trust me.”
-Detectives in glass houses shouldn’t wave clues.
-All women want to be painted.
-Stabbing people is just not British:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Alice White seems to kiss every cop she comes in contact with, starting with her boyfriend Frank all the way down to the street cop on the corner.]
Chris: “She must have a thing for cops.”
Nick: “Who doesn’t... besides anybody?”

Bonus Viewing:
The Skeleton Dance - 1929
In addition to Blackmail, this week the RDHP also screened the 1929 “Silly Symphonies” cartoon classic “The Skeleton Dance.” Produced and directed by Walt Disney, this spooky cartoon follows the musical exploits of four skeletons in a haunted cemetery. Even Skeletons like to jam! The bits in this cartoon still hold up today. If you don’t laugh, you might just be dead!

RDHP Present:
Alfred Hitchcock Tribute
What horror project would be complete without an entry from Alfred Hitchcock! Sure, you could argue that most of his famous movies were more suspense than horror, but in our book the suspense title is just a classy way to say “that film be scary and sophisticated, dawg!” 
Horror and suspense are one in the same, and no one knew that better than Hitchcock. 
 We just snuck Hitchcock into the project with 1929s Blackmail… but there are loads of other Hitch-films we wish we could have screened as well.
Below, we present our three favorite Hitchcock films that didn’t make the RDHP, but should be required viewing for any fan of the macabre.

Psycho (1960)
The movie that many credit with creating the modern horror film. When the heroine dies halfway through the picture, audiences realized that just about anything can happen. And it does. But I thought Mother couldn’t even hurt a fly?!

Rear Window (1954)
Who doesn’t like to creep out their window and spy on their neighbors? Hitchcock made us think just what we would do if we saw something in that window we’d never forget. With James Stewart and Grace Kelly in the leads, men and women alike couldn’t get enough of their own window peeping.

Vertigo (1958)
We could have easily put The Birds on this list, but Vertigo’s human drama is just so much more deep and haunting than a pack of wild birds. There is Stewart’s depressing and insane obsession with his dead lover, the spinning twists and turns of the plot, and who can forget that trippy sequence when Stewart loses his marbles! It’s heartbreaking, teeth-chattering, and brain-melting. Vertigo just might be Hitchcock’s best film. No, not might… is.

RDHP Screens Its Last 10 Films
On Nov. 16, 2009, we started the Rich-Dimick Horror Project with an ambitious goal; screen one horror film from each year in modern history and blog about the experience. Could we do it? Would we survive with sanity intact? We didn’t know. We still don’t know.
But this week, nearly two years later, we stand on the doorstep of completion. Blackmail marks the first of our final 10 films in the RDHP. 
To date we’ve screened 82 of the 91 movies, and will bring the project to back home to mama with the following slew of entertaining flicks. 
Below we present the remainder of the RDHP schedule, and invite you to follow the project as it takes its last nine steps into the ethereal light.

 Mirror, Mirror

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

You’ll Find Out

Count Yorga, Vampire

Sunset Boulevard

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter


Just post your vote in the comments section below. 
The nominees are:
Apollo 18

 Red State

  Fright Night

 Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


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