Unboxing the Silents: Blackmail on Bluray (yes, the silent version too!) and Murder!

I am so excited about this particular unpacking, let me tell you! I have been wanting a decent copy of Hitchcock’s silent Blackmail for the North American market for years and it’s here at last.

As some of you may already know, Alfred Hitchcock made both a silent and a talkie version of Blackmail (1929) and made innovative use of early sound technology. However, the silent version is still superior, in my opinion, and I am delighted to finally have a region 1/A version that I can recommend.

You can read my comparison of the silent and talkie versions in my review of Blackmail but let’s get down to business. And a big thanks to Kino for review copies!

In addition to Blackmail, Kino has released Murder!, which is a talkie but it’s a pretty early one and I thought you might enjoy a little peek there as well.

Blackmail

First, what you get: This is a two-disc set with two different versions of the talkie (the “regular” and one labeled “1.20:1 version”) and the Grail, the silent version. I am not going to dig too deeply into the talkie because it will probably be covered elsewhere and I know what most of you are here for. (And, please, if there are any fights about aspect ratio, hold them elsewhere.)

We also get a commentary track by Tim Lucas, interviews, an introduction and star Anny Ondra’s screen test.

Blackmail is available now on DVD as well as Bluray.

Image

Very nice indeed! The restoration is BFI-branded and looks quite nice. The talkie version is a little more contrasty. Here is a comparison of the two:

Silent version
Talkie version

And here are more screencaps of the silent. I have cropped the pillarboxes but have not otherwise altered the images.

Music

Blackmail has a new score courtesy of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. This score is a bit more discordant than their usual work but is still quite traditional and the harsher sound suits the dark nature of the picture very well.

We have desperately needed a quality release of the silent version of this picture and we have it at last, thank goodness. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Murder!

And as a special bonus, here’s a sample of Murder! (1930). The film is also available on DVD and Bluray as a region 1/A release.

This release doesn’t have a silent but it does have a German language version that was also directed by Hitchcock! Cool, huh? I love foreign language versions of English language classics, so I am looking forward to really sinking my teeth in. The disc also includes a commentary, introduction, interviews and an alternate ending.

English version
German version

And here are a few more screen caps. Looks pretty nice, eh?

So, two Hitchcock releases in high quality and one with a rare silent version. I call that a win!

P.S. There are MANY low quality versions of these films out there but buyer beware, the quality is usually atrocious. If you want to see the stuff that I screencapped here, you’ll need to go with the Kino-branded releases in the North American market.

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4 Replies to “Unboxing the Silents: Blackmail on Bluray (yes, the silent version too!) and Murder!”

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this very tempting release!

    I wonder about the difference in contrast between the silent and the talkie version, as illustrated in your comparison shots. Would you have any guesses on the reason for this? Is it possible that different cameras were used to shoot each version, with film stocks that were inherently different in contrast range?

    It seems to me that at some point starting about 1930ish, many or most movies showed significantly more contrast than did most movies of the late 1920s. I don’t know what could be the reason(s) for this. Different film? Different lighting techniques?

  2. I have just watched the silent version & the Tim Lucas commentary. The Mont Alto score is fine: sometimes startling but startling can be good. The audio commentary is one of the best I’ve heard. Lucas makes perceptive comparisons of the two versions in a very even-handed way it seems to me. He admires much in the silent version & argues that it should be viewed as a distinctive film in its own right.

    But having enjoyed the talkie version often through the decades, I still think it has many good features. I love its musical score too & find it more effective than the Mont Alto in the opening sequence, the climactic chase, & the nightmare scene after the murder where she wanders in shock through London. Elsewhere Hitchcock makes ingenious use of sound–& I don’t just mean in the breakfast “knife” episode. Truth is, tho’ I’m usually partial to a silent version where a talkie exists, I can’t bring myself to prefer one to the other in this case. We should just be happy to have both.

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