Now this is more like the Hitch that I know and love!
Dialogue By: Benn W. Levy
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
At one point in Blackmail the character of Alice is leaving a building and as she does so the audience is presented with a shot from the top of the building looking downward to the bottom of a stairwell. This particular shot is present in a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, most memorably in Vertigo. In almost every instance Sir Hitchcock uses that shot for two reasons. First and foremost it looks really freaking cool. I know that’s a crass and juvenile way of putting it, but the truth is the truth and Sir Hitchcock has a penchant for making that shot look cool. The second reason Sir Hitchcock uses that shot is, I believe, to emphasis the distance a character has now put between themselves and the reality they used to know. In Blackmail it is Alice who has lost the reality she was once comfortable with, a reality she can never return to as the finale of the film demonstrates.
The stairwell shot isn’t the only way in which Blackmail is very much an Alfred Hitchcock film. There are more instances of comedy interwoven with suspense in Blackmail than there have been in most of the films of Sir Hitchcock that I have seen that preceded Blackmail. The stretch of the film from when Alice slashes a particularly troubling picture until she returns home is a very Hitchcockian sequence. It’s in these moments that Sir Hitchcock builds the suspense of the film. He uses the shadows and street corners to create a sense of something happening at any moment. When whatever we fear will happen doesn’t happen there’s a sigh of relief that is abruptly stopped by the appearance of a face in a phone booth.
It’s at this moment that the ability of Sir Hitchcock to make dialogue heavy sequences very suspenseful and thrilling emerges. Blackmail isn’t a nail biting thrill ride in any sense, let alone in the dialogue heavy sequences. However, the dialogue heavy sequence in Alice’s parents shop plays around with the idea of an unknown threat making himself known and placing the damsel very much in distress. Over the course of the third act the suspense is twisted and rearranged until Alice is no longer the damsel in distress, but now it is the idea of morality and doing the right thing that is in distress.
For all the positives I have just written about Blackmail, it is by its finale a film that doesn’t completely come together. There are some problems with the sound mix, and while I know this was common in the early days of the talkie it doesn’t make the problems any less troublesome. But most troublesome is that while the final minute of the film serves a greater theme about Alice distancing herself from her former reality it does not provide an adequate release from the suspense Sir Hitchcock has created in the rest of the film. Said suspense is admittedly of the minor Hitchcockian variety as far as his brand of suspense goes. All the same the payoff of the film does not gel with what came before it, and that creates a disjointed feel to the film when viewed as a whole.
As far as my exploration of the earlier works of Alfred Hitchcock goes Blackmail is a massive step in the right direction. It has a few funny moments, but mainly it creates an interesting level of suspense. I was engaged with the characters of Blackmail and the consequences of one characters actions. I would have liked those consequences to have led to a better payoff. For the most part I was satisfied with Blackmail, while it’s not major Sir Hitchcock, it is good Sir Hitchcock.