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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Blackmail
(1929)

 

Alfred Hitchcock directed the first sound feature film produced in England — a full-sound film that was really silent with synchronized music and sound effects for the majority of its first reel. Blackmail (1929) was initiated as Hitchcock’s tenth silent feature, but the production was converted to a sound film as the new technology became available in England. The original silent version has survived (and is generally considered to be better than the sound-film version), yet it is the sound film that is commonly available on home video.

Polish actress Anny Ondra, who had starred for Hitchcock in The Manxman (1929), was a great choice for the female lead of Blackmail until the production switched to sound. Although Ondra could speak English reasonably well, her thick accent became a problem in an English language sound film. (The 1990s laserdisc release of The Criterion Collection’s edition of the film includes a sound test of Ondra.) The solution was to dub Ondra’s dialogue with another actress’s voice, but sound-film technology and techniques were still crude and dubbing could not occur in post-production. As sound retakes were being filmed, Joan Barry (later Hitchcock’s female lead in Rich and Strange [1931]) spoke dialogue into an off-screen microphone as Ondra mouthed the words. The results were passable for 1929 audiences, but are annoying today. Perhaps a better solution would have been to reshoot the sound version with Barry in the lead role and leave Ondra’s performance intact in the silent version.

For fun, see if you can count the number of times the cast says, “I say . . .” during the course of the sound version of the film. — Carl Bennett

coverArthaus
2010 DVD edition

Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 83 minutes, FSK 6,
with Blackmail (1929) [silent version], black & white, 83 minutes, FSK 6.

Arthaus, distributed by Kinowelt Home Entertainment,
500430, UPC 4-006680-02643-5.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 2 PAL DVD disc, 1.20:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 4:3 [sound version] and 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 [silent version] (? x ? pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 6.5 Mbps average video bit rate [sound version] and 5.5 Mbps bit rate [silent version], ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, optional German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, £25,95.
Release date: 2010.
Country of origin: Germany

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 8 / additional content: 4 / overall: 8.

This German rerelease DVD edition of Blackmail has been transferred from 35mm print materials for both the sound and silent versions of the film that are included on this disc. The sound version features a pillarboxed video transfer of very-good to excellent 35mm print that nets an approximate 1.18:1 ratio picture. The right side of the image reveals the curved corners of the camera’s original aperture matting, while the left side of the picture is matted straight where the optical soundtrack is located on the print (see above).

The silent version of the film (still frame above) has been full-frame transferred from a very-good to excellent 35mm print. The original footage plays better here at a silent-speed of approximately 20 frames per second, resulting in natural pacing of the action. It is the slower frame rate that allows this shorter version of the film to run at approximately the same time length as the longer sound version. There is the usual amount of speckling and dust to be seen in the source print.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition. This rerelease is likely to be identical to the 2002 Arthaus edition noted below. With it sporting the same catalog number as the earlier release, but released with a different cover.

At the moment, this is our recommended home video editon of Blackmail (both versions).

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverArthaus
2002 DVD edition

Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 83 minutes, not rated,
with Blackmail (1929) [silent version], black & white, 83 minutes, not rated.

Arthaus, distributed by Kinowelt Home Entertainment,
500430, UPC 4-006680-02643-5.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 2 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (? x ? pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 6.5 Mbps average video bit rate [sound version] and 5.5 Mbps bit rate [silent version], ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, optional German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, £25,95.
Release date: 2002.
Country of origin: Germany
This German DVD edition of Blackmail has been transferred from high-quality 35mm print materials.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverWhirlwind Media
2000 DVD edition

Juno and the Paycock (1929), black & white, 85 minutes, not rated,
with Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 80 minutes, not rated.

Whirlwind Media, WDVD2006, UPC 6-88321-20062-2.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $19.95.
Release date: 4 July 2000.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 6 / additional content: 6 / overall: 6.

Amidst a sea of cheap Hitchcock editions of Blackmail, this disc is among the better of them but is still not great. The analog video transfer maintains a broad and balanced range of greytones, but is a little soft in its picture details. The framing of the full-frame transfer feels a little tight. The source print is reasonably clean, but there is a moderate amount of dust, speckling and minor print damage to be seen.

Hard to find today, this previously was the best-looking edition of the sound-film version of Blackmail we had seen on DVD home video.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverWestlake Video
2005 DVD edition

Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 84 minutes, not rated.

Westlake Video, WLV 3093, UPC 7-98622-30932-7.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
Release date: 29 March 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 6 / additional content: 2 / overall: 6.

This cheapy disc is OK, but — again — not great. The original video transfer has been mastered from a 35mm print, but we suspect (unconfirmed) that the transfer was lifted from the Criterion Collection laserdisc edition of Blackmail for this DVD edition.

The source print has some dust, speckling and fleeting print damage, but has a broad range of greytones with perhaps a little deeper shadows than preferred.

The disc is a reasonable and inexpensive substitute for a quality disc until a better edition is released (preferably with both the silent and sound versions of the film).

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverOptimum Home Entertainment
2007 DVD edition

The Early Hitchcock Collection (1927-1932), black & white and color-toned black & white, 810 minutes total, BBFC Classification PG,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, ? minutes, BBFC Classification PG.

Optimum Home Entertainment,
unknown catalogue number, unknown UPC number.
Nine single-sided, single-layered, Region 2 PAL DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (? x ? pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; nine slimline DVD keepcases in cardboard slipcase, £34.99.
Release date: 26 February 2007.
Country of origin: England
This Hitchcock boxset contains the Optimum DVD edition of Blackmail in its sound release version.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverLaserlight Digital
1999 DVD edition

Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 85 minutes, not rated,
with Easy Virtue (1927), black & white, 80 minutes, not rated.

Laserlight Digital, DEL82036DVD, UPC 0-18111-99743-0.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 2.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese subtitles, 18 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $7.95.
Release date: 20 July 1999.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 6 / additional content: 4 / overall: 5.

The earliest DVD edition of Blackmail is OK, but not really worth pursuing. While the full-frame video transfer has a slightly flat but broad greyscale range, the disc’s low bit-rate encoding renders a softer and less-detailed image than some newer discs. As with most of the 35mm prints utilized for home video editions of Blackmail, this one has a moderate amount of dust, speckling and some minor print damage.

Not a horrible edition of Blackmail, but there are better to be had.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverMill Creek Entertainment
2007 DVD edition

Alfred Hitchcock: The Legend Begins (1926-1962), black & white, 1614 minutes total, not rated,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 84 minutes, not rated.

Mill Creek Entertainment, no catalog number, UPC 6-83904-20031-0.
Four dual-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 4 chapter stops; four-disc DVD keepcase, $14.98.
Release date: 25 September 2007.
Country of origin: USA

This DVD edition has been transferred from a very-good 16mm reduction print.

The film is accompanied by its original synchronized soundtrack.

Not a recommended home video edition of the film when the Arthaus editions noted above are available.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
Mill Creek Entertainment
2011 DVD edition

Alfred Hitchcock: A Legacy of Suspense (1926-1962), black & white, 1737 minutes total, not rated,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 84 minutes, not rated.

Mill Creek Entertainment, no catalog number, UPC 6-83904-52427-0.
Four single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; four-disc tin keepcase (rereleased in four disc envelopes in holder within standard DVD keepcase), unknown suggested list price.
Release date: 1 November 2011.
Country of origin: USA

This DVD edition has been repackaged from the 2007 Mill Creek edition noted above, which has been transferred from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is presented with the original synchronized soundtrack from the sound release version of Blackmail.

The supplementary material includes a ‘documentary’ The Story of Alfred Hitchock in 16:9 widescreen (22 minutes) and a collection of Hitchcock film trailers (39 minutes).

The results are not great and this is not a recommended home video edition.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverSt. Clair Vision
2007 DVD edition

The Ultimate Hitchcock Collection (1926-1962), black & white, 1695 minutes total, not rated,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 89 minutes, not rated.

St. Clair Vision, BX86149-6VD, UPC 7-77966-86149-4.
Six dual-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; six slimline DVD keepcases in cardboard slipcase, $16.98.
Release date: 19 November 2007.
Country of origin: USA

This edition has been transferred from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is accompanied by its original synchronized soundtrack.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverBrentwood Home Video
2003 DVD edition

Alfred Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense (1926-1961), black & white, ? minutes total. not rated,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 86 minutes, not rated.

Brentwood Home Video, 45011-9, UPC 7-87364-50119-9.
Five double-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 384 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 mono sound, English language soundtrack, no subtitles, 6 chapter stops; five-disc DVD keepcase, $19.98.
Release date: 7 October 2003.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 5 / additional content: 5 / overall: 3.

Another budget edition of Hitchcock’s Blackmail yields less than average results. It appears that a 16mm reduction print has been utilized for the full-frame video transfer. Most noticeable is the lack of highlight image details, with faces and white wardrobe blasted out to white in many shots. The print’s exposure fluctuates slightly in some shots.

Easily the worst-looking edition of Blackmail that we have viewed.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverWestlake Entertainment
2007 DVD edition

Alfred Hitchcock Collection (1927-1939), black & white, 1083 minutes total, not rated,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Westlake Entertainment, unknown catalog number, UPC 6-83904-20031-0.
Six dual-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; six-disc DVD keepcase, $14.98.
Release date: 4 December 2007.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD collection has likely all been transferred from 16mm reduction prints.

The film is likely accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverEcho Bridge Home Entertainment
2008 DVD edition

Alfred Hitchcock Classics (1927-1962), black & white, 720 minutes total, not rated,
including Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Echo Bridge Home Entertainment,
unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Four dual-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; four-disc DVD keepcase, $15.99.
Release date: 2 September 2008.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD collection has likely all been transferred from 16mm reduction prints.

The film is likely accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverSynergy Entertainment
2009 DVD edition

Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 84 minutes, not rated.

Synergy Entertainment,
unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $9.99.
Release date: 4 June 2009.
Country of origin: USA
This edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is likely accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverFilm X
200? DVD edition

Blackmail (1929) [sound version], black & white, 83 minutes, not rated.

Film X, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 2 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language soundtrack, optional Czechoslovakian language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
Release date: 200?.
Country of origin: Czechoslovakia
This Czech edition of Blackmail may have been transferred from a 16mm reduction print.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
Other silent era ALFRED HITCHCOCK films available on home video.

Other BRITISH FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Alfred Hitchcock filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
 
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