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Blackguard, The (1925)


Main image of Blackguard, The (1925)
35mm, 9,200 ft, black & white, silent
DirectorGraham Cutts
Production CompanyUFA / Gainsborough Pictures
ProducerMichael Balcon
Assistant DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
ScreenplayAlfred Hitchcock
Original novelRaymond Paton
CinematographyTheodor Sparkuhl
Art DirectorAlfred Hitchcock

Cast: Walter Rilla (Michael Caviol); Bernhard Goetzke (Adrian Levinsky); Jane Novak (Prinzessin Maria Idourska); Frank Stanmore (Pompouard)

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A gifted violinist is torn between his music and his love for a princess. Amid the chaos of the Russian revolution, he finds himself on the opposing side to his former tutor.

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The Blackguard was made under a partnership between Gainsborough Studios and Germany's celebrated UFA studios, negotiated in the mid-1920s by Gainsborough head Michael Balcon to secure start-up financing not easily available in Britain. The German company provided financing, distribution and, on this occasion, studio space, while the British supplied UK distribution and the core production team: director Graham Cutts and his assistant Alfred Hitchcock, who wrote the screenplay and did the art direction.

But the film has a very German 'look' that isn't surprising given its origins. The cameraman was the experienced Theodore Sparkuhl (who would later have a brief career in British film on his way to Hollywood), while the cast were principally well-known German actors such as Walter Rilla and Bernard Goetzke (who subsequently turned up in Hitchcock's The Mountain Eagle, 1926).

Hitchcock clearly relished having access to the Babelsberg art department and was able to adapt or construct sets on the monumental scale characteristic of the studio. When the young protagonist, Michael, walks into the cathedral in the opening scenes, the massive set dwarfs the character. The scenes of a castle under attack from Russian revolutionary forces are similarly epic. Most interesting of Hitchcock's contributions is a fantasy sequence, in which Michael is hit on the head and, losing consciousness, imagines a heavenly host arranged up an ascending stairway, at the top of which is (presumably) God, who tells him he will be the greatest violinist of all time if he loves only his art.

On this scene the plot hinges: the tension between the ambitions of the artist, rigorously trained and bullied by his sinister tutor, Lavinsky, and his more earthly passion for Princess Marie. The malevolent but charismatic Lavinsky becomes a revolutionary leader in the Russian army, and threatens Princess Marie, who Michael, despite his love for her, has forsaken in favour of his artistic career. Only a climactic sword fight between Lavinsky and Michael seems to justify the British title, The Blackguard, although which of the characters most deserves the epithet is not clear. The German title was Die Prinzessin und der Geiger (The Princess and the Fiddler).

It was while filming The Blackguard that Hitchcock was able to witness the great German director Friedrich Murnau at work on his masterpiece Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1925), an experience which would make a profound impression on the young Englishman.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
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2. The prayer answered (3:36)
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