Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Blackmail (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Although Edward G. Robinson is mainly thought of as a Warner Bros. actor in the '30s, he did occasionally work for other studios in that time period. One such film is BLACKMAIL (1939), made for MGM. It's just been released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Robinson plays John Ingram, an expert at putting out oil well fires. John is happily married to Helen (Ruth Hussey), with a little boy (Bobs Watson), but he has a dark secret, known only to Helen: Years ago, under another name, John had been convicted of a robbery he didn't commit and sentenced to a chain gang. He escaped and has lived life as a solid citizen ever since.

Unfortunately a man named William Ramey (Gene Lockhart), who knew of John's past, arrives in town and extorts money and a job from John. The payoffs are ultimately to no avail, and John is arrested and sent back to the chain gang. Locked up under terrible conditions, it seems hopeless than John will ever be able to prove the truth...

BLACKMAIL is an intermittently interesting film. I very much enjoyed Robinson and Hussey's depiction of John and Helen's loving marriage; there was an interesting sort of "Beauty and the Beast" element to their touching romance which makes one wonder about the details of their back story. His adoration of her is very appealing, and Hussey does well as the strong wife John needs, whether cheering him on at a nerve-wracking fire situation or bearing up under difficult conditions when he's sent back to jail.

I especially liked that John's past wasn't a terrible secret suddenly sprung on his wife; it's clear from the outset she knows the score, when a newsreel truck passes by a fire site and she tells John to turn his back. For my money it's the Robinson-Hussey scenes which make the film worth seeing.

The Southern chain gang scenes and John's ultimate escape for a second time are long and exhausting. Combined with HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932), I've seen enough chain gang films for this year!

Guinn "Big Boy" Williams plays John's righthand man; sometimes his character's denseness is wearing, but he also has some touching moments.

As for Lockhart, this must be about the sleaziest character he ever played, and the audience roots for him to get his just desserts.

The cast also includes Esther Dale, Willie Best, John Wray, Arthur Hohl, Cy Kendall, and Charles Middleton, who gives Lockhart a run for his money in the evil department.

BLACKMAIL was directed by H.C. Potter and filmed by Clyde De Vinna. It runs 81 minutes.

The DVD is a good-looking print. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Raquel S. said...

Great review! Even a so-so Edward G. Robinson film is still fun to watch. Looks like a good cast. I'll watch Bobs Watson in anything.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel! He's definitely a compelling actor. Overall I found it worthwhile for the parts I enjoyed. If you're a Bobs Watson fan you'll want to check it out!

Thank you,

11:26 AM  
Blogger egomoi said...

Gene Lockhart specialized in truly sleazy characters. His double crossing Nazi collaborator in Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die nay be more craven than Ramey. His Sherriff in The Outlaw is quite loathsome too.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Gene Lockhart really could be creepy! And yet on the other hand he was also very good as Bob Cratchit in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), acting opposite his real-life wife and daughter, Kathleen and June.

Best wishes,

11:48 AM  

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