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Film / Blackmail (1929)

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Blackmail is a 1929 British thriller drama film and the first talking film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Alice (Anny Ondra) is a London shopgirl who goes out on a date with her handsome boyfriend, Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber (John Longden). She's two-timing him, though, and sneaks out of her date to meet with a sleazy artist, Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard). The artist lures her to his studio and tries to rape her, but she stabs him to death. She thinks she has gotten away with it, but she was seen by petty criminal Tracy (Donald Calthrop), who blackmails the couple.

Blackmail was not only Hitchcock's first talking film but the first talking film made in Britain. It was a huge hit and established Hitchcock as one of Britain's preeminent directors. It bears many of the tropes that would become familiar parts of Alfred Hitchcock's work—not just the Creator Cameo but the Monumental Battle, the Dead-Hand Shot, the use of a blonde heroine in peril, and others.


  • Attempted Rape: Crewe attacks Alice, but she manages to get her hand on a knife.
  • Blackmail: Maybe not a shock that this is a plot element in Blackmail. Unfortunately for Alice, she is seen by a man on the street as she exits Crewe's rooming house.
  • Bookends: Very similar shots of the police car barreling through the streets in the first scene of the movie and in the climax.
  • Climbing Climax: Tracy, with the cops in hot pursuit, climbs to the top of the British Museum.
  • Creator Cameo: Yes, Hitchcock did this from the very start of his career. This time he is sitting in a subway car, where a young boy is annoying him.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: This is how Crewe's death is revealed. Later in the film, Alice is creeped out every time she sees a man's extended hand and arm.
  • Disney Villain Death: Unfortunately for Tracy, it turns out the panes of the glass cupola atop the British Museum can't support his weight.
  • Driving a Desk: Very obvious when the police car is driving around. The actors have white outlines around them.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: The Chief Inspector mocks Frank for the "fact" that Alice caught Tracy (when she'd been meaning to turn herself in), and Frank and Alice pretend to laugh along, as Crewe's painting of a laughing clown is carried off.
  • The Film of the Play: Adapted from the 1928 stage play of the same name by Charles Bennett.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: A variant—when Alice is changing into the model's dress, Mr. Crewe then snags her dress. Not played for laughs.
  • Heroic BSoD: Alice slips into one of these after knifing Mr. Crewe.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Frank the detective says of the crime movie that he wants to go see:
    Frank: It's about Scotland Yard. Might be amusing. They're bound to get all the details wrong.
  • Match Cut: From Alice screaming when she sees a bum lying on the street that reminds her of Crewe, to Crewe's landlady when she discovers him. Again later, when the police chief orders a search for the blackmailer, to the blackmailer sitting in the same position.
  • Monumental Battle: The cops chase Tracy to the British Museum.
  • One-Word Title: Due to Blackmail being a plot element.
  • Re-Cut: Shooting was already underway when the producers decided to make Blackmail a talking film. Hitchcock wound up shooting all of the picture as a talking film except the first 6 1/2 minutes, while also making a silent version for theaters that hadn't converted to sound. Both versions survive
  • Rooftop Confrontation: The cops finally corner the blackmailer atop the British Museum.
  • Same Language Dub: Anny Ondra's thick Czech accent was judged to be a problem. Hitchcock solved it by having an English actress, Joan Barry, say the dialogue off-camera while Ondra mouthed the words. Ondra went back to Czechoslovakia not long after, where she worked in movies for many more years.
  • Time-Passes Montage: A criminal is being interrogated; he puts his cigarette on the ashtray. Cut to the ashtray with four cigarette butts inside it.
  • Zip Me Up: Part of Alice's flirting with Crewe, when she is trying on one of his costumes for models.