is both a film important for its place in cinema history and
a compact, little thriller that holds up well in its own right some
seventy years after its initial screening.
the cinema history angle:
then thirty-year old Alfred Hitchcock was in post-production of the
Blackmail, (his first thriller since The
Lodger), when studio executives at British
International Pictures informed him that the revolutionary sound-on-film
equipment had arrived and would he care to christen it by remaking Blackmail
as a talkie?
said yes and the film was re-shot using the same cast as on the recently
photographed silent version. There was just one problem: turns
out the leading lady (Anny Ondra)
had a Polish accent so thick you could cut it with
a knife. Rather than recast a British actress for the part, Hitchcock
had Ondra silently mouth her lines while the English Joan Barry stood
just off-camera reading those same lines aloud into an open microphone.
It worked, Blackmail became Britain's first full-length
talking picture, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, to the plot.
daughter of a London shopkeeper, is the girlfriend of Frank Webber
of Scotland Yard. If it's a little excitement Alice is looking
for in her workaday life, she's certainly not getting it from the humdrum
at a busy restaurant, Alice tries striking up a spark in Frank by striking
up a flirtatious conversation with a handsome stranger (Cyril
plan backfires, Frank and Alice have a nasty fight, and then, as if
to show Mr. Frank Webber what's what, Alice departs the restaurant in
the company of the handsome stranger.
stranger turns out to be of an artistic bent and, after enticing little
Alice up to his studio, he offers her a brief introduction to painting
nudes, then further entices her to strip down to the barest slip of
a slip so that he might paint her.
wouldn't be many girls who wouldn't know just exactly what was next
on the artist's agenda for the evening, but little Alice, shopkeepers
daughter, isn't that kind of girl. Forced to defend her honor,
she stabs the man with a handy bread knife, killing him. (So much for
fun and games.)
the scene, unwittingly leaving her gloves behind as evidence. Lucky
for her, Frank is assigned to investigate the case. In due course
he finds one of Alice's gloves and, quite unprofessionally, pockets
it. Meanwhile, Alice has been haunted by the images of knives.
She sees the reminder of what she has done everywhere. Worse
still, back at her father's shop, all she can seem to make out of the
ambient conversation is the word "knife" --we hear what she hears, a
muddle of unintelligible conversation, with only the word "knife" jumping
out clearly from time to time.
tell-tale-heart fashion, Alice develops the urge to confess her crime.
To make matters worse, a blackmailer has found Alice's other glove
and is threatening to spill the beans.
Long story short, the culmination of a chase through the British Museum
settles the blackmailer problem (a terrific sequence, especially considering
what was done on a very tight budget) and Frank has only to silence
the lips of little Alice for everything to get back to normal, humdrum
as that might have been.