Film Screening: Blackmail


Saturday, February 1, 2020, 7:00pm


Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge

Released to accommodate unconverted theaters, the silent Blackmail is leaner than the sound version and all the more disquieting for its subtle shifts in perspective. A documentary-style prologue establishes the rule of law in swift, precise strokes, but culpability ultimately proves elusive after a young woman grabs for a kitchen knife to defend herself from a darkly intimated rape. No sooner has the woman’s policeman boyfriend determined to cover up her crime than a supremely confident blackmailer materializes at the family shop. Hitchcock undercuts easy moral dualities at every turn, masterfully interspersing subjective and objective views for his first sustained exploration of the transference of guilt. A most Hitchcockian climax set at the British Museum was suggested to the director by a young Michael Powell, and the film was adapted from a play by Charles Bennett, the screenwriter who would go on to pen several of Hitchcock’s most characteristic Thirties’ films.

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