Blackmail (1939)


H.C. Potter


7 April 2002 | by Jim Tritten (Corrales, NM) – See all my reviews

Poor title for what is a movie patterned on “I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.” It would appear that some of the shots were either taken from that masterpiece or re-done virtually identically with new cast. Edward G. Robinson is presented in the Paul Muni role but this time the hero has been willfully framed — not wrongfully convicted. This framing is necessary for the rest of the story line and the plot unfolds as believable. Gene Lockhart steals the show in his portrayal of the villain. Robinson never looks as gaunt as Muni and is less convincing as someone who has suffered on the chain gang. Watching Robinson’s rotund body run through the swamps just doesn’t hack it. If given a choice, see the Muni movie but this one will serve for those who prefer a different ending. A better title might have been “Vengeance.”


Pretty Gritty

Author: howdymax from Las Cruces, New Mexico
11 April 2002

All chain gang movies take us on a journey. We start with a nice guy, usually innocent, being brutalized on a chain gang until he becomes a seething mass of controlled rage out for vengeance. This movie is no exception.

Edward G Robinson has been victimized before so his situation here is no real surprise. The surprise is the object of his rage. A total psychopath named Ramey, played by non other than Gene Lockhart of all people. The casting director in this movie was a genius. Who would have ever thought of this perennial nice guy as a villain. Crybaby Bobs Watson does his bit as EGR’s kid Hank. Big Boy Williams is his loyal affable self. It is no wonder he stayed busy for decades. Only Ruth Hussy drops the ball in this one. She just doesn’t seem gritty enough for this kind of melodrama.

It may sound crazy, but there is something comforting about the savage routine of a chain gang when compared to the terror of escaping and becoming a fugitive. You would think that every police force in the country has nothing to do but search for this guy.


I won’t get into the ending – it’s a little hard to swallow, but I think it’s worth waiting for. Just remember, this takes place long before the Miranda decision. This is a little programmer that gets lost between “I Was a Fugitive From a Chaingang” and “Cool Hand Luke”, but as chain gang movies go, this is a winner.

Robinson Upstaged!

Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
10 May 2002

Tough guy Edward G. Robinson, who normally dominates every movie he’s in, is upstaged in this one, a good, unambitious actioner, first by raging oil well fires, then by the sly performance of Gene Lockhart, as a particularly loathsome, scheming villain, complete with a baby talking Down East accent. The movie is otherwise unexceptional though very skillfully made at MGM, and features an innocent Robinson on the run from the law for a crime he did not commit. As his sidekick, Guinn Williams is presented as so moronic one wonders how he can hold down any job, much less function as E.G.’s second in command in such a dangerous profession as putting out oil well fires, but the ways of Hollywood are sometimes mysterious. The capable Ruth Hussey is wasted in the boring and irritating role of the wife, from whom we want the movie to get away as quickly as possible. Robinson at first seems out of place in the Oklahoma oil fields but is so robust as the hard-driving entrepeneur hero that this is easily forgiven, and besides, he always excelled at playing fearless men.


Satisfying chain gang story with Edward G. Robinson sans Warner Bros.

Author: vincentlynch-moonoi from United States
9 April 2014
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I think this film — MGM instead of Warner Bros. (I assume he was out on loan?) is one of Edward G. Robinson’s better films, although definitely not one of his best. Frankly, as much as I liked Robinson, the Warner pics of this genre began to meld together after a while. MGM gave this film a slightly different feel, and for me, it worked.

As I child traveling in the south, I remember seeing chain gangs, but I never realized how depressing their lives were. This film shows you that.

Some feel this film has an unreal story line. Yes, it does. Just about as unreal as most of the Warner-type gangster films. But here it’s done up with slightly better production values and some decent acting. Edward G. Robinson is fine as the wrongfully convicted oil man. Ruth Hussey, an often underestimated actress, is fine here as the wife. Gene Lockhart is surprisingly effective as the blackmailing villain. Thank god…we got through one film with child actor Bobs Watkins WITHOUT a crying scene (but I kept waiting for it). I never saw the attraction to sidekick Guinn Williams…and still don’t.


Some have criticized the ending. I thought it was satisfactory…perhaps could have been handled a bit better…but was as plausible as most Hollywood endings of the day.

A rather satisfying film. Perhaps not quite a “A” picture, but better than your typical “B” picture.


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