Earlier this year, the British Film Institute completed the largest restoration project in its history, creating pristine new prints of Alfred Hitchcock's nine surviving silent movies, which had fallen into terrible shape over the past eight decades. The current restorations—screening at the Music Box from Friday through Tuesday—are reportedly the best these films have looked in generations. Casual Hitchcock fans may be surprised to learn that most of them aren't thrillers. The "Hitchcock 9" lineup includes three screwball comedies (The Pleasure Garden, Champagne, the Noel Coward adaptation Easy Virtue), a boxing picture (The Ring), and a melodrama set in a small fishing community (The Manxman). Several screenings will feature live musical scores, with the Colorado-based chamber ensemble the Mont Alto Orchestra accompanying Blackmail (Fri 8/9, 8:30 PM), The Lodger (Sat 8/10, 8:30 PM), and The Ring (Sun 8/11, 6:30 PM), and local organist Dennis Scott accompanying five other screenings. —Ben Sachs
Blackmail Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 masterpiece, his last silent, follows the plight of a murderer caught between her blackmailer and her detective boyfriend. For all the experimental interest of the sound version that followed (the first full-length talkie released in England), this is more fluid and accomplished. Apart from two suspenseful set pieces—an attempted date rape in an artist's studio that ends with the murder of the artist-rapist, and a chase through the British Museum, Hitchcock's first giddy desecration of a national monument—what most impresses is the masterful movement back and forth between subjective and objective modes of storytelling, as well as the pungent uses of diverse London settings. As someone who's always preferred Lang's treatment of serial killers to Hitchcock's, I would opt for this thriller over the much better known The Lodger as Hitchcock's best silent picture, rivaled only by his less characteristic but formally inventive The Ring. —Jonathan Rosenbaum 85 min. The Mont Alto Orchestra will perform a new musical score. Fri 8/9, 8:30 PM.
Champagne A rarely screened Hitchcock oddity from 1928. It's a comedy, ostensibly, in which a millionaire pretends to be broke in order to discourage his daughter's marriage to a man he considers unsuitable. She gets a job hustling drinks in a Parisian cabaret, where one of the most popular boissons is the very champagne her father manufactures. Though made on assignment (as a vehicle for the popular British comedienne Betty Balfour), the film is permeated with Hitchcock's characteristic sense of instability, complete with subthemes of voyeurism and vertigo. The direction is lively and often overinventive, as was frequently the case during the early, experimental phase of his career. With Jack Trevor and Gordon Harker. —Dave Kehr 86 min. Organist Dennis Scott will accompany the screening. Sat 8/10, 6 PM.
Downhill Silent-era star Ivor Novello stars in as a public schoolboy falsely accused of getting a girl pregnant, triggering his downfall. This 1927 melodrama was Alfred Hitchcock's fifth feature film as director, also known as When Boys Leave Home. 74 min. Sun 8/11, 9 PM.
Easy Virtue A rarely screened Hitchcock silent (1928), adapted from a Noel Coward melodrama. Isabel Jeans stars as the wife of an alcoholic and the lover of a suicidal man. With Eric Bransby Williams, Franklin Dyall, and Ian Hunter. 80 min. Organist Dennis Scott will accompany the screening. Sat 8/10, 3:30 PM.
The Farmer's Wife Seldom seen in the U.S., this rare Hitchcock silent (1928), based on a London stage play, is a pastoral comedy about a country gentleman seeking a bride among the unpromising prospects of his home county. Hitchcock disliked the film, but it offers an unusual glimpse of the master before he settled into thrillers. Matters of marriage were always much on his mind. —Dave Kehr 129 min. Organist Dennis Scott will accompany the screening. Mon 8/12, 8:30 PM.
The Lodger Alfred Hitchcock's most famous silent (1926). Not a great film, but a remarkable one, with Hitchcock at his most "innovative," shooting through plate-glass floors and generally one-upping the expressionist cliches of the period. The story bears a strong resemblance to Frenzy. —Dave Kehr 75 min. The Mont Alto Orchestra will perform a new musical score at Saturday's screening. Sat 8/10, 8:30 PM, Mon 8/12, 6 PM, and Tue 8/13, 6 PM.
The Manxman This rare Hitchcock film, from 1929, was his last silent. The Isle of Man provides a vertiginous backdrop for a classic Hitchcock triangle, involving Anny Ondra and Carl Brisson. It's no masterpiece, but it's certainly something to see: Hitchcock's early work is full of surprises, dramatic and stylistic, including such trivial delights as the first recorded freeze frame (in Champagne). These are the experiments from which his genius grew. —Dave Kehr 110 min. Organist Dennis Scott will accompany the screening. Tue 8/13, 8:30 PM.
The Pleasure Garden Shot in Munich, Alfred Hitchcock's first feature (1926) is a silent British melodrama about two chorus girls (Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty). 75 min. Organist Dennis Scott will accompany the screening. Sun 8/11, 3:30 PM.
The Ring Probably the most visually sophisticated of Alfred Hitchcock's silent pictures and certainly one of the best, this 1927 release sets up an edgy romantic triangle in a traveling carnival that involves two boxers (Carl Brisson and Ian Hunter) and a snake charmer (Lillian Hall-Davies). Significantly, this is one of the few movies for which Hitchcock is credited with the screenplay (though an uncredited Alma Reville, his wife, also worked on it). —Jonathan Rosenbaum 72 min. The Mont Alto Orchestra will perform a new musical score. Sun 8/11, 6:30 PM.