Quote of the Day: Not O-kay for Sound!

 blackmail02

“We embarked upon a large programme of silent pictures, paying no heed at all to, you know, ‘I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles…’ and went gaily on…”

~ Sir Michael Balcon, in archive footage interview excerpted in Brownlow and Gill’s Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood.

Balcon, as head of Gainsborough Pictures at the end of the ’20s, typified the British attitude to the coming of sound, ignoring it in ostrich fashion until it was all but too late.

But sound could not be resisted. How Hitchcock reacted to the new medium will be the subject of Wednesday’s entry in Hitchcock Year.

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4 Responses to “Quote of the Day: Not O-kay for Sound!”

  1. Well you know what Godard said, Ostriches are realists because when something big comes along they ignore it and instead dig their head underground.

    Anyways, I much prefer the silent BLACKMAIL over the sound version. And actually it was the silent Version that became a huge box-office hit. The sound version played in limited venues and for a wider release they used the silent version.

  2. I’m looking forward to comparing the silent to sound. Hitch has a whole history if remaking project, with the two Men Who Knew Too Muches as the most famous examples, but there’s also the Blackmails and Murder and its German-language version, Mary.

  3. I’ve wondered about MURDER/MARY(too obvious a pun!), I’ve never seen either but it would be interesting to do a comparison between the two.

    But these two versions are remakes out of necessity, BLACKMAIL because the producer suddenly decided that BLACKMAIL needed sound(which Hitchcock thought the production was ill-prepared for and made the silent version by the side) and MARY came about because it was cheaper to make an entirely new version in another language than dubbing(subtitling was not an option save in Sweden, the land that popularized this process).

    THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is an official remake(Hitch planned one for THE LODGER but the studio did it with John Brahm) and then there are unofficial remake of THE 39 STEPS which was first remade as SABOTEUR, and definitively as NORTH BY NORTHWEST. And of course bits and pieces from his early films show up latter, the tracking shot of YOUNG AND INNOCENT is remade in NOTORIOUS in turn remade in MARNIE.

  4. The story Hitch tells is that Blackmail was made silent, and then the producer wanted to convert a couple reels to sound, and “I thought it would be fun to make the whole movie with sound,” so they did this, “in a very furtive manner,” without the producer’s knowledge. Doesn’t sound entirely likely. In any case, the first two reels of Blackmail are effectively silent anyway, so it’s not Britain’s first all-talking picture at all. (I don’t know what is!)

    Bizarre that the studio would prefer Brahm to Hitchcock, talented as Brahm was. His film is a visual treat, with a superb central perf, but it falls down a bit on script.

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