Sometimes I wonder if people think movies about rape didn’t exist before the #MeToo movement. America in general is pretty ahistorical, but we’ve been pretty stupid when it comes to dealing with sexual violence. Any film that talks about sexual violence, harassment, or even toxic masculinity is rubber stamped with the #MeToo label, as if it only exists now. The fact is, films that take these topics seriously have been around for quite a while as long as the medium itself. Although the director himself is suspected of being guilty of such violence, “Blackmail” is undoubtedly one of them.
However, it still feels a little magical that a film like “Blackmail” was made almost 100 years ago. This film has all the touch points of 1920s cinema aesthetics, but is more ironic than many famous films associated with the era, and also more honest in its themes. After her attempted rape, Alice just wants her life to go back to how it used to be, but there’s no turning back from the traumatic and tumultuous world she’s been through. It’s apt that this was one of the first big talkies in British history because it’s, quite literally, a film about talking.
Hitchcock famously released two versions – one with sound and the other without – but the film’s visuals are appealing no matter what you watch. The chase scene at the British Museum towards the end is one of his most famous moments, and for good reason. Auteur doesn’t really fire all cylinders here, as it was at the start of his career and the transition to sound isn’t perfect, but “Blackmail” remains a compelling, poignant thriller and an important part of film history.