Fragment #14: Alfred Hitchcock’s Alternative Ending for Blackmail

[In Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail, released in silent and talkie versions in 1929, Alice White (Anny Ondra) kills an artist who has attempted to rape her. She is protected by her boyfriend, a London detective, but blackmailed by a petty thief who had witnessed her leaving the scene of the crime. In the original ending, the thief dies being pursued by police when he becomes the prime suspect for the murder. Here, Hitchcock outlines how he would have preferred the film to end.]

The blackmailer was really a subsidiary theme. I wanted him to go through and expose the girl. That was my idea of how the story ought to end. I wanted the pursuit to be after the girl, not after the blackmailer. That would have brought the conflict on to a climax, with the young detective, ahead of the others, trying to push the girl out through a window to get her away, and the girl turning round and saying: “You can’t do that – I must give myself up.” Then the rest of the police arrive, misinterpret what he is doing, and say, “Good man, you’ve got her,” not knowing the relationship between them. Now the reason for the opening comes to light. You repeat every shot used first to illustrate the duty theme, only now it is the girl who is the criminal. The young man is there ostensibly as a detective, but of course the audience know he is in love with the girl. The girl is locked up in her cell and the two detectives walk away, and the older one says, “Going out with your girl to-night?” The younger one shakes his head. “No. Not to-night.”

That was the ending I wanted for Blackmail, but I had to change it for commercial reasons. The girl couldn’t be left to face her fate. And that shows you how the films suffer from their own power of appealing to millions. They could often be subtler than they are, but their own popularity won’t let them.

Alfred Hitchcock, “Direction” in Charles Davy (ed.) Footnotes to the Film. London: Lovat Dickson Ltd, 1938.

3 thoughts on “Fragment #14: Alfred Hitchcock’s Alternative Ending for Blackmail

  1. Even in 1929 the pressure to find commercial appeal damages a director’s vision. His preferred version sounds better, more conclusive. Would box office really have been affected by it?
    Did Hitchcock have to succumb to that kind of pressure later in his career when he was a real heavyweight, or was it just because it was early days?

    • I also think his version sounds more interesting, and more challenging. It’s always hard to say how audiences would have responded to a different ending, but you can tell that the producers don’t want to take a chance on deviating too far from what happened in the past.

      When Hitchcock went to Hollywood, it was under the rule of David O. Selznick, who was famously controlling, and frustrated by Hitchcock’s refusal to do as he was told when choosing new projects. Later on he had much more control, and films could be sold on his name. That said, a lot of the fun of Hitchcock films comes from seeing him bait the censors or toy with audience expectations or get away with something daring from within the studio system, so those constraints could, paradoxically, make his work seem more subversive.

  2. Well my cable went out 2 minutes before the ending, so I’m glad this was posted to let me know the basic outcome without having to wait another 85 years for it to air. Jerkwad cable TV!

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