Blackmail (1929) + Stephen Horne

Blackmail [I saw the silent version of this.]
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Alfred Hitchcock, Benn W. LevyMichael Powell
Based on: Charles Bennett‘s play
Cast: Anny OndraJohn LongdenDonald CalthropCyril RitchardSara AllgoodCharles Paton
Part of: Film and Music Cycle in the Konzerthaus
With music by: Stephen Horne [autoplay warning]
Seen on: 15.02.2015

Alice (Anny Ondra) has been dating Scotland Yard detective Frank (John Longden) for a bit, but she is a little bored by him. That’s why she accepts an invitation by an Artist (Cyril Ritchard). They spend an evening together and Alice agrees to visit his studio in the end. But there things go awry and the Artist tries to rape Alice. She fights him off and kills him. Dazed she runs away, only to be confronted with the deed when Frank takes up the investigation. He quickly connects the murder to Alice, but decides to keep it to himself. Especially when a witness (Donald Calthrop) turns up and tries to blackmail the both of them.

I came rather late to Hitchcock in my cinematic life and I still haven’t seen much, but with each of his film more I see, I appreciate him more as a filmmaker. His films aren’t always perfect, but they are always engaging. That is also true for Blackmail, especially with the musical support by Stephen Horne.


Most of the Film and Music Cycle(s) so far featured bands or orchestras. In this case they had Stephen Horne, alone with a piano and an accordion and I don’t know what else and he just did it all on his own. It was amazing and it almost made me wish that I had seen a worse film or a film that I knew very well, because I could and would have paid more attention to Horne that way.

But as Blackmail is engaging and incredibly tense, most of my focus rested there. I was completely caught up in the story and especially the characters. They are not always likeable and their actions are morally very questionable (and I’m not talking about the killing here), but somehow you root for Alice and Frank anyway. Or maybe because of that – even if they don’t succeed at it, they try their best to do the right thing. Which makes the ending, where everything falls into place so neatly and they can decide to do the right thing, even if it’s bad for them, but don’t need to fear the consequences, a little disappointing and certainly the weakest part of the film.

blackmail1It is still a strong ending, though, because of Anny Ondra. She was generally mesmerizing and easily transitions between Alice’ levity in the beginning to her being shell-shocked. And she takes that ending and she turns it dark. That Alice ultimately doesn’t have to face up to her actions, is not the win it superficially seems. Instead of getting officially exonerated, since she was acting in self defense, she gets away with it, and you only get away with things that are wrong. And Alice knows that – you can see it in Anny Ondra’s face.

So, if an ending like that is the weakest part of the film, you still have an excellent film on your hands. And with the music by Stephen Horne, there’s really nothing that can go wrong anymore.

blackmail2Summarizing: Wonderful.

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