October 31, 1929 [Blackmail]

It's all ghosts and monsters now, shouts out there in the dark, the children hiding gates and and tossing flour. Once again I go to the atlas, between whose thick and settled pages many small things hide--rosebuds and fern-leaves, a child's first scrawl, ticket-stubs and clippings--among them Joel Benton's Hallowe'en poem from 1896--and, as atlases may one year wander, I'll copy it out tonight, to honor the occasion:

Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite
All are on their rounds to-night,--
In the wan moon's silver ray
Thrives their helter-skelter play.

Fond of cellar, barn, or stack
True unto the almanac,
They present to credulous eyes
Strange hobgoblin mysteries.

Cabbage-stumps--straws wet with dew--
Apple-skins, and chestnuts too,
And a mirror for some lass
Show what wonders come to pass.

Doors they move, and gates they hide
Mischiefs that on moonbeams ride
Are their deeds,--and, by their spells,
Love records its oracles.

Don't we all, of long ago
By the ruddy fireplace glow,
In the kitchen and the hall,
Those queer, coof-like pranks recall?

Eery shadows were they then--
But to-night they come again;
Were we once more but sixteen
Precious would be Hallowe'en.

The Stock Market also has done its fiduciary mischiefs--but no charm protects us, for Wall Street loves no one, chooses neither with mirror nor nut nor needle the future spouse, the happy day. No, it's all helter-skelter, "hobgoblin mysteries," the stock-ticker a sharp-toothed mouth opening wider every day, gobbling it all down.

Fitting that I saw Blackmail, the sound of loss clear as the film's crowds murmur, the street-sounds clatter by, and the villain threatens to break silence unless plenty of cash is forthcoming. Alfred Hitchcock is a bit of a pixie himself, working magic: the noise of real life creeps in while his performers pose just so in his demanding frame, objects he adjusts precisely to guarantee breathless anticipation, panic, despair--and (thank God for the movies!) relief.

I hear a child-ghost wooooo-ing at the keyhole. And I'm duly frightened.


Popular Posts