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Sydney Morning Herald (16/Jun/1930) - New Films: Blackmail






The British talking film "Blackmail" gained some notoriety a few months ago when the Commonwealth Censor refused to pass it: and only the overriding power of the Appeal Board has made it available to the Sydney public, with certain excisions. Consequently, one went to the Capitol Theatre on Saturday expecting something extremely sordid. In actual fact, the one climactic incident where the cuts have been made is the only part of the film to which exception can be taken, but, judging from the nature of what leads up to and what immediately follows the hiatus, the censored passage must have been distinctly coarse. A few more small cuts might, yet be made without spoiling the continuity of the story. It is a pity the producers have thought fit to introduce this unpleasantness; because, from a dramatic point of view, the rest of their work is distinctly impressive. It excels in two aspects — first, in the minutely developed study of character, and, secondly, in the representation of horror and suspense.

To take the first of these aspects, every part, no matter how insignificant, has been splendidly played Even the figure of a man in a suburban railway carriage whose sole function it is to appear for less than a minute and create comic relief by allowing an urchin to pull his hat over hi& eyes is a little gem of acting. So is that of the rabbit-like old lodging-house landlady, who plays a larger, but still quite a secondary part. The member of the cast who will create most interest in Sydney is, of course, the Australian, Cyril Ritchard, still vividly remembered here for his fine dancing with Madge Elliott in musical comedy. He appears only in the first part of "Blackmail," since he is the artist who attacks the heroine, and is stabbed by her in self-defence, but in this brief time he is able to give a good idea of his qualities as a screen actor. He is exceedingly reserved in style, and his speech, while beautifully distinct, lacks stress, yet, in an easy way he contrives to give a strong sense of the artist's cynical, dissolute character, masked beneath an appearance of culture The part of the heroine is played by Anny Ondra. She it is who forms the emotional storm-centre of the play. The plot, like that of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," is really a study of a character blooding in secrecy over the horrors of an unconfessed murder. Actress and director (Alfred Hitchcock) have Joined forces to make the situation a compelling one. The sparseness of the dialogue makes every word effective, as a break in the nervous tension. In several instances, sound has been used with an imaginative force which points to great developments in psychological expression in the future, when there has been time for experiment. In the first of these instances, the murderess is sitting at breakfast with her unsuspecting family while a garrulous neighbour pours forth details of the crime The word "knife" comes often into this narrative, and gradually, while the camera rests on the figure of the heroine holding a long knife in her hand ready to cut some bread, this word separates itself out from the flood of chatter, and is repeated again and again in isolation, until suddenly it rises to a shriek, and simultaneously the girl's arm gives a jerk that sends the bread-knife flying on to the floor. As a piece of subjective expression, the passage is brilliantly realistic. A moment or two later, the stroke of a bell has been artificially intensified. In a similar way to depict, not the way it actually sounded, but its effect upon a hearer with taut, overstrung nerves

Another excellent piece of acting is done by Donald Calthrop, as the blackmailer, who attracts attention instantly by the contrast between his cultivated accent and manners and his exceedingly frowsy clothes. This man finally makes a dash into the British Museum, with a large force of police at his heels. It is quite a novelty to see a pursuit like this in such a setting, and the director has made the most of the contrast as the fugitive rushes up and down among the cases of mummies and in and out of the huge reading room, finally to climb onto the roof and crash to death through the glass of the dome. The other players include Sara Allgood, who appeared on the Sydney stage about 15 years ago in "Peg o' My Heart,' and John Longden. The ending of the film is effective in its unexpectedness and unconventionally.