A swarm of sailboats fills the screen in the introductory view of the Isle of Man, a bedrock for Flaherty and Powell. The triangle is nimbly laid out, the boisterous fisherman (Carl Brisson) and the ambitious lawyer (Malcolm Keen), close as brothers and in love with the tawny barmaid (Anny Ondra), the "Manx Fairy." Met with the fisherman’s marriage proposal, the girl is framed by a window with the revolving beam of a distant lighthouse slashing in and out of the surrounding darkness, a visualization of the vacillating mind. (The expressionistic glow reappears toward the end as the heroine wanders the edge of a pier, lost in suicidal thought.) While Brisson is abroad to make his fortune, she falls in love with Keen (notes scribbled on a diary chronicle the progression of the courtship, an early Godardian use of words as images); the fisherman is presumed dead only to suddenly return "hearty and flush o’ money" to a guilty chum and a pregnant sweetheart. "The mills of God grind slowly," intones the stern old innkeeper at the wedding party, as Alfred Hitchcock sends up the purity of marriage ("a mighty reverent thing") with a string of droll dissolves culminating in a frontal composition of clueless groom, miserable bride and shamefaced best man, all three separated by a mocking double-layer cake. It builds to the tribunal encounter between the judge and the woman he’s deserted (cf. Dreyer’s The President), and an ending that gazes back at Hawthorne and ahead to Under Capricorn. Hitchcock’s last silent, a veritable sonata of POV close-ups aimed straight at the camera; Blackmail hangs on to Ondra and adds a most essential sound, the scream. With Randle Ayrton, Clare Greet, and Kim Peacock. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce