This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



BLACKMAIL (Alfred Hitchcock, 1929)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Friday, February 21, 7:00; Sunday, March 2, 4:10; Thursday, March 6, with Murder!; Friday, March 21, 10:30; Saturday, May 3, 3:30
The Complete Hitchcock: February 21 - March 27
The Hitchcock 9: February 21 - May 4

Last summer, BAMcinématek presented restored versions of all nine of Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent works, and now “The Hitchcock 9” will be shown at Film Forum from February 21 through May 4 in conjunction with the larger series “The Complete Hitchcock,” which includes all of the Master of Suspense’s films, along with a few surprises. Both series begin Friday with the silent version of Blackmail, accompanied by Steve Sterner on the piano. Based on the play by Charles Bennett, Hitchcock’s 1929 thriller is both his last silent picture as well as his first sound film. The transition is evident from the very beginning, eight glorious minutes of a police arrest with incidental music only, highlighted by an unforgettable mirror shot (courtesy of cinematographer Jack E. Cox) as the cops close in on their suspect. After those opening moments, the film switches to a talkie in the nonsilent version, as New Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber (John Longden) gets into a fight with his girlfriend, Alice White (Anny Ondra, later to become the longtime Mrs. Max Schmeling), who goes off on a secret rendezvous with a slick artist named Crewe (Cyril Ritchard). When things go horribly wrong at Crewe’s studio, Frank assures Alice that he will help her, but slimy ex-con Tracy (Donald Calthrop) has other ideas, thinking he can use some inside information to make a small killing. After shooting the picture with sound — including having Ondra’s dialogue spoken off-screen by Joan Barry because Ondra’s Eastern European accent was too thick — Sir Alfred filmed some scenes over again in silence, resulting in two versions of this splendid psychological thriller, both laced with elements of German Expressionism and early film noir as well as flashes of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Look for Hitch as the man on the subway being menaced by a young boy.

Early thriller, shot with and without sound, features classic Hitchcock touches

Early thriller, shot with and without sound, features classic Hitchcock touches

The silent version is being shown at Film Forum on February 21, March 2, and May 3, while the sound picture will screen March 6 in a double feature with Murder! and by itself on March 21. “The Hitchcock 9” continues through May 4 with The Lodger, The Pleasure Garden, Easy Virtue, Champagne, The Farmer’s Wife, The Ring, Downhill, and The Manxman (all featuring Sterner on piano), while “The Complete Hitchcock” gets off to a rousing start with North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, and The Wrong Man and such double features as Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Rich and Strange, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, Secret Agent and Young and Innocent, and The Trouble with Harry and Family Plot. In addition, the Paley Center will be hosting “The Complete Hitchcock: Television” on March 29-30 and April 5-6, consisting of all episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that the master directed, as well as documentaries, interviews, and other bonuses.

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