Museums & the Movies: Blackmail

February 22, 2013


The new features on Museum Diary just keep coming, though this is one that’s been in the pipeline for a while. Two years in fact! I’d compiled a list of movies featuring museums, on occasion of the Academy Awards (a.k.a. Oscars) back then, with the intention of watching some of them and having a regular ‘Museums & the Movies’ feature. Then a little something, or should I say someone, called #MuseumBaby got in the way. Finding ten minutes here or there to work on a blog post is just about possible when looking after a baby, sitting down to watch a movie and take notes while you’re doing so is not possible, as it turned out. But now that he’s older we’ve managed to reclaim an occasional evening to ourselves – or even watch some of the movies that are suitable for kids together – so the ‘Museums & the Movies’ feature is back on track!

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Blackmail (1929)
Location: London
Starring: The British Museum

For the first round, I was going to pick a movie with a museum in a main role but then, on reading Jack’s Adventures in Museum Land, I was reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail which I hadn’t seen in ages and had completely forgotten it featured the British Museum, so it wasn’t on my original list (must do an update). The scene with the British Museum is actually only about 3 minutes long, out of a 82 minute long movie, but with the new Hitchcock biopic out in cinems and Blackmail’s  significance for film history, I decided it was a worthy contender for the weekend of the Academy Awards. Blackmail, released in 1929, is generally considered to be the first British ‘talkie’, carrying the tagline “See and Hear It”. However, there are actually two versions in existence, as many cinemas were not yet equipped at the time to show talking pictures. Hitchcock filmed the majority of the film as a silent movie and then later re-shot certain scenes with sound, or dubbed voices and sound effects over silent scenes.


As far as the plot goes, newsagent’s daughter Alice goes out to tea with her boyfriend Frank, a detective at Scotland Yard. However, she’s secretly arranged to meet another man, an artist referred to later as Mr Crew, and manages to vex Frank to the point that he storms off, though he hesitates outside the cafe and sees Alice and the other man leave. The two of them walk home together, and Alice falls for the age old “let me show you my studio” trick – something which she no doubt later regrets when the artist tries to assault her and she ends up killing him in self-defence with a bread knife. Scotland Yard is called to the scene and Frank, immediately realising Alice’s involvement, covers for her. Unfortunately for Alice, a low life criminal saw her leaving the scene and gives the movie its name by trying to blackmail them. Without giving too much away, the key scene for museum fans is a chase that ensues at the British Museum, through its galleries and reading room, ending up on the roof!

Did you know? Anny Ondra, who plays Alice, did not speak any English, so her lines were spoken by another actress – Joan Barry – standing just off screen.

Best quote: “I mean, it’s one thing to buy chocolates out of hours, but it’s quite another to stick a knife in to a gentleman (…) A good, clean, honest whack over the head with a brick is one thing. There’s something British about that. But knives? No, knives is not right.”


Additional information taken from the DVD liner notes of ‘The Early Hitchcock Collection’ by Studio Canal, Optium Classic.


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