The Manxman Reviews
I suppose there's enough going on throughout this quiet affair to keep entertainment value adequate, and it helps that it's hard to find a version not graced by an impressive score incorporation, but after a while, all of the minimalism to storytelling devolves into blandness, as you might imagine it would, given its dated filmmaking style. Natural shortcomings shake the engagement value of this film, as they do with most every silent film, and can even be found within the silence, an unavoidable issue whose lack of voice nevertheless distances you from and thins out a conceptually promising narrative. Of course, I don't know if the narrative is all that conceptually promising to begin with, being an intriguing drama, make no mistake, but a minimalist one whose full potential could by no means be explored during this time, however limited it may be. Honestly, I'm not especially familiar with Hall Caine's original source material's full potential, so as far as I can tell, Eliot Stannard's scenario interpretation is really what's so lacking, but either way, there's only so much diversity to this idea, and it becomes harder and harder to deny that the more the film drags along. I joke about how two hours was considered a hefty length during this era of very simple filmmaking, but at around 110 minutes or so, this film really does feel too long, meandering along material repetitiously, yet still rarely abandoning that classic silent film superficiality that dulls things down a bit. Make no mistake, the strengths are relatively considerable, and I've doubts that this was topped as a silent film-era Hitchcock film, but there's only so much you can do with this material, and draggy, often dry storytelling isn't exactly the way to go. The film is forgettable, but, again, it might very well be better than Alfred Hitchcock's preceding silent opuses, facing its shortcomings, both natural and consequential, and overcoming them enough to keep you, or at least your eyes adequately invested.
Certainly, motion photography capabilities were seriously limited by 1929, and age matters matters worse as it wears down the prints of this film, but for what it is, Jack E. Cox's cinematography is truly beautiful, drawing in frames of light shadow around emphasized whites that take solid advantage of the coloration limitations at the time in order to give you a sense of subtle visual flare. These hauntingly lovely plays on the handsomeness of this film's distinguished environment not only does justice to the lovely production values, but draws you into a sense of scope within a rather minimalist drama, thus, visual style, alone, guides much of the engagement value of this affair, at least about as much as it can. It's simply too difficult to bring all that much life to this story concept, at least at this simpler time in filmmaking, although that's not to say that the story is without meat, being a romantic melodrama whose layers were still prominent enough, and continue to ring to this day enough to endear, at least on paper. As for the execution, the film succumbs to storytelling limitations of the time, but it really does try in more than a few areas, working to be relatively extensive, if a little draggy in its meditations upon conflict, passion and, above all, characterization. Well, at least the characterization feels distinguished thanks to the performances, which, for their time, in spite of some hammy occasions, weren't too shabby in their projecting charisma and dramatic depth, in spite of a lack of dialogue. What further sells the core of this drama, at least to the best of its abilities, is, of course, Alfred Hitchcock's direction, which is kind of bland in its being more meditative than lively, but has its share of moments of genuine subtlety and grace that may not exactly have been well beyond the time, but carried a heart that cannot pump that much blood into this unavoidably improvable opus, yet has a weight to it that, when really played up, might very well compel, even by today's standards. These highlights in well-aged directorial inspiration are few and far between, and bridged by a questionable story concept and problematic execution, but through all of the natural and consequential shortcomings, there's enough quality to this drama for it to endear, even if it can only endear so much.
Overall, storytelling dry spells make worse the blandness of the silent filmmaking format, while a relatively overlong length gives you plenty of time to ponder upon the natural narrative limitations that secure the final product as yet another underwhelming silent film, no matter how hard it tries with the lovely cinematography, decent acting and reasonably inspired direction that admittedly do enough justice to an intriguing story concept to make Alfred Hitchcock's "The Manxman" a dated, but endearing final effort for Hitchcock as a man of silent cinema.
2.5/5 - Fair
I watched three Alfred Hitchcock movies I'd never seen before this week. One of them is considered among his best films; The Lady Vanishes appears on over half the critical thousand-best lists I have collected over the years. The other two, Young and Innocent and The Manxman, appear on none. These would seem to be considered relatively minor films as far as Hitchcock's output is concerned. So it may be somewhat sacrilegious for me to say this, but I liked The Manxman, Hitchcock's final silent film, just as much as The Lady Vanishes.
Based on a novel by Hall Caine (which had already been adapted into a film in 1917 by George Loane Tucker; while by the standards of the time it was an almost unimaginably lavish production, the few voters on IMDB who've seen it as I write this are largely unimpressed), The Manxman is the classic love triangle story. Kate Creegan (the delicious Andry Onna, who would later appear in Hitchcock's Blackmail) is the daughter of the innkeeper on the Isle of Man, which lies between Wales and Ireland. Two childhood friends are both infatuated with her; fisherman Peter (Carl Brisson, returning from Hitch's The Ring) is below her station, but a good, solid man who truly loves her; she's altogether fond of him, but her father isn't happy with the match. He sails off to sea to make his fortune, leaving Kate in the capable hands of Philip (Malcolm Keen, also a Hitch veteran; he'd appeared in The Lodger), an aspiring Deemster (island judge) who is as much above her station as Peter is below it; in this case, it's his parents who don't approve of the match. For, yes, Philip is just as much in love with Kate as is Peter.
It's wonderful stuff indeed, with the classic love-triangle plot being used for all sorts of ethical dilemmas, acts of nobility, and the like. I feel like I should probably be more concerned by the fact that Onna's character is more a vehicle for these dilemmas and acts than a character in her own right, but I wasn't, and I've been mulling it over for a couple of weeks and honestly I still can't. I found this little drama ("little" in the sense of "intimate" more than "minor") charming, and the blush hasn't faded as it's stayed in my memory. A neglected Hitchfilm whose current presence on Netflix Instant (at least as of this writing) should be celebrated. ****
The story here, filmed on location on The Isle of Man, follows that of childhood friends Pete the fisherman and Philip the law student. They end up in a love triangle, both madlyattracted to village girl Kate. Pete ultimately wins her, but, after he is presumed lost/dead at sea, she begins things anew with Philip. Pete later turns up alive and unharmed, and marries Kate. She ends up pregnant, and conflicted over what to do, as the consequences may be dire.
Okay, so, storywise this isn't the most original film, and at the time Hitch, despite already establishing himself as The Master of Suspense, was still under contract with British International Pictures, and thus forced to do any picture they gave him, this being his final one for the silent era. It's dour, weepy, and a rather melodramatic romance movie, but it's fairly well played, decently acted, and gorgeously shot.
It has some thrilling moments, but this isn't really a thriller. It's just a nice, though not really upbeat love triangle tale. It's passable stuff, yet probably doesn't need to be 129 minutes, and definitely feels that long, if not longer. Still though, it's hard to rip on Hitch too much, and this is a must see for completists.
"What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
A love triangle with splashes of comedy. Carl Brisson's theatre reactions are hilarious. The version I saw was an hour and fifty minutes, which was to long. Didn't see much of Hitchcock's signature in there.
"The mills of God grind slowly."-Caesar Cregeen (Randle Ayrton)