03 October 2008

The Manxman (1929)

d. Alfred Hitchcock / UK / 116 mins.

Although the title makes it sound like it could be an early werewolf movie, Alfred Hitchcock's final silent film is an insufferable and predictable soap opera, not only a low point from his early career but a low point from his entire career.

Two friends – an ambitious but poor fisherman (Carl Brisson) and a shy lawyer (Malcolm Keen) – are both in love with Kate (Anny Ondra). The poor fisherman realizes there is no way he will be able to woo Kate unless he is successful, so he takes off for Africa and tells her to wait for him. She obliges, but then there's the lawyer. Kate and the lawyer fall in love when it appears the fisherman has died in Africa, but – gasp! – he isn't dead and his return creates a tense and melodramatic love triangle that will end the way you imagine it will and takes entirely too long to resolve.

I consider myself a judicious man, so let me note that there's one really brilliant shot (there's one in every Hitchcock film, no matter how bad it is). It is near the end of the film, and one of the characters dramatically jumps into deep water. The shot of the dark bubbling water dissolves into another scene and another liquid, and when the camera pulls back, the new liquid remains ambiguous until we see a quill dip into it and immediately it is recognizable as an inkwell. There, now I've said something nice.
The Manxman was cinematographer Jack Cox's fourth collaboration with Hitchcock, and he also must be given credit for helping capture some beautiful landscape shots at Cornwall, substituting for the Isle of Man, where the film is set. (A "Manxman," if you're curious, is the descriptor for an ethnic group from the Isle who frequently lumped in with the Gaels.) The script would be Eliot Stannard's final collaboration with Hitchcock, with whom he had worked since The Mountain Eagle (now a lost film) in 1926.

What is continually amazing about Hitchcock's career is not necessarily that it ebbed and flowed between great films and bad films, but how he could produce a bomb and a masterpiece back to back. After The Manxman, he began production on what might truly constitute his first fully realized Hitchcockian production, Blackmail. Later he would go from the atrocious Jamaica Inn in Britain to Rebecca, his American debut which won Best Picture of 1940. I don't think you have to see the clunkers to realize how great his other films are, but it certainly is illuminating. That said, please stay as far away from The Manxman as possible.


the editor., 04 October, 2008  

According to Bucs1960 (over there on IMDb) "Some of the plot lines are not fully developed and one rather important element is left unsaid in the story's ending.
(Bucs1960, opinion about Hitch's 1929 film "The Manxman (1929)"
Be that as it may, if you are a fan of the Master, it's required viewing. It will fill in the history of his work and although it is atypical of his later films, it is worth the watch!"

I agree, because his early work along with his work in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and late 70s bring his work to a full circle and complete the cycle. I look at his early work as Hitch experimenting as he develop (what we know today as his own unique style!...or as I refer to it..."The Hitch Style")

MovieMan0283 06 October, 2008  

A recent survey of Bergman's career revealed the same trait. Most astonishing was that the atrocious and shockingly uncinematic All Those Women fell squarely between The Silence and Persona. Go figure.

Sam Juliano,  10 October, 2008  

Yeah, indeed T.S., indeed. This one is static and tedious, and badly dated. I guess we can still attribute that to Hitch still trying to gain his footing. Nice review. My freiend Allan Fish likes this a bit more than I do, but we are pretty much on the same page.

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