The Manxman (1929)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The second feature in Madman’s silent Hitchcock double bill; buggered if I know why it’s taken me two years to see it after I watched the first one, but there you go… Anyway, Hitchcock himself was pretty down on this, his last silent film (I know Blackmail technically counts as that, but never mind), dismissing it as “banal” and not a “Hitchcock film”. And both of those statements arguably have some truth to them; the plot essentially boils down to a love triangle melodrama of a not terribly Hitchcockian sort. Mind you, at that point Hitchcock had yet to really become “Hitchcock”, if you know what I mean, in any case; either way The Manxman is still better than he’d admit. The three points of the triangle are Pete the fisherman, Philip the magistrate’s son, and Kate the innkeeper’s daughter, the woman they both love. Kate’s father thinks Pete the poor fisherman is too poor a catch for his daughter, while Philip’s mother thinks Kate’s unfit for her son who’s going to follow the family trade. Anyway, Pete sets off to make his fortune in Africa and is later reported dead, which would seem to clear the way for Philip and Kate whether or not his mum objects… except that Pete isn’t dead, and complications obviously ensue. If you think this sounds like it’ll end badly, you’d be right; I was impressed by Hitchcock’s refusal to cave in with an even remotely happy ending. The basic niceness of the cast only makes it worse somehow; Carl Brisson is particularly charming as Pete, and I was amazed to find his career (which had barely started by then; he also starred in The Ring for Hitchcock) was pretty much over within a couple of years. He was Danish, so I wonder if his accent was a problem in the early days of British sound films (his co-star here, Anny Ondra, would be famously problematic for that reason on Hitchcock’s next film, Blackmail). The scenery on show might be Cornish rather than Manx, but it’s beautifully photographed either way, and the whole film is generally nicely turned out, demonstrating that Hitchcock had a pretty solid technique for silent films even if he was meh about this one in particular. No masterpiece but still pretty good.


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