The Manxman

Pete Quillam (Carl Brisson from The Ring) is a penniless fisherman. His best friend, Philip Christian (Malcolm Keen), is a hot-shot lawyer. The two have been inseparable since birth, being raised as essentially brothers despite their wildly different lifestyles. They’ve even found a way to combine their various career paths, with Philip pushing through a petition that will prevent steam trawlers from encroaching on the fishermen’s haul, but when they meet Kate Cregeen (Anny Ondra), the barmaid daughter of the local pub The Manx Fairy, they both instantly fall for her. Pete, the more headstrong and forward of the pair, is the first to make a move, so the loyal Philip hides his feelings for the sake of his pal. But when Pete heads to Africa to make his fortune to win over Kate’s father (Randle Ayrton), things get complicated when Philip is asked to look after Kate in his absence. 

You cannot imagine how shocked I was to discover that this film has an almost identical central plot to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. I was in no way expecting any similarities between a film made by Alfred Hitchcock and what many believe to be the worst film made by one of the worst blockbuster makers working today, but plot-wise they are pretty much spot on, so I managed to guess almost every element that happened within the first hour of the story. It’s interesting that the love story in Pearl Harbor – a triangle between Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett’s Army Air Corps pilots and Kate Beckinsale’s nurse – was widely regarded to be the most superfluous and tedious aspect of that film, but here it is the primary – and often sole – focus, and it is handled far more deftly and in depth in Hitchcock’s 80 minutes than Bay’s 3 hours. This is probably because no-one goes to see a Michael Bay film for a tepid, mopey love story, especially when said film is about one of the most momentous events in the history of international warfare that’s literally made from explosions, so those of us who found ourselves having to wade through the hours of treacle to find nowhere near enough shiny fireworks to keep us entertained for even half the film’s length were of course disappointed – a feeling I’ve since become familiar with from Bay’s output. How exactly did this review of a 1929 Hitchcock silent film become me slandering Bay’s 2001 nadir? The two weren’t even made in the same century!

Anyway, The Manxman. The most interesting thing I found about this film was that at the start, the story seemed to be entirely about Philip, and the woes he would endure withholding his unrequited love for the promised bride of his best mate. The story is mostly told from his point of view, which is generally the case of the hero, yet as the plot progresses and the three points of the love triangle become further entangled with one another, it becomes clear that he is not the hero of his own story, but the villain, or at least the antagonist, of Pete’s. Though Philip and Kate never intend to do anything untoward against Pete, they still effectively destroy his life by doing what they believe is right at the time. Pete, meanwhile, is nothing but a lovable, earnest oaf, whose only crimes are an obliviousness to his friends clear affections for a girl, and his shame at believing himself not wealthy enough to be an acceptable husband or son-in-law.

There are no decisions made throughout that can really be judged against, as everyone always acted with the best possible intentions – initially at least – which makes it very easy to empathise with and feel sorry for almost everyone involved, and at times it’s all a bit of a downer. There’s some elements of Cyrano de Bergerac in there as well – Pete asks Philip to put in a good word for him with Kate and her father, because he has a way of making things sound better.

In terms of Hitchcock-ness, there wasn’t anything that stood out thematically or cinematically, although I did like the use of Kate’s diary entries and the way she referred to Philip – Mr. Christian, Phillip and finally Phil – to indicate her growing affection for him and the increasing closeness between the two. That was a nice touch. Also, the climax was delectably tangled, even if it was clear how everything was going to unravel.

Choose film 7/10

6 thoughts on “The Manxman

  1. Nice review. I had not spotted the connection to Pearl Harbour (whose only claim to fame in my book is some nice old planes…), that was a nice observation. I liked The Manxman best of Hitchcocks silents exactly because of the triangle where nobody is the bad guy, but everybody are trapped in the same mess. I actually think that is a classic Hitchcock theme even though nobody gets murdered here. Hitchcock liked triangles with dark secrets and here the darkness is the doom they are all heading for. Anny Ondra is good in the silents. It is just a shame they replaced her Czeck accent with a Mickey Mouse voice in Blackmail.

  2. Thanks. I've got Blackmail sat at home on my bookcase, waiting to be watched this weekend, so expect my thoughts on Ondra's voice next week. I had no idea it wasn't a silent, so who knows, I may even get my girlfriend to watch it! (She doesn't really do silent films). I liked that the film had no bad guys in – something I've only just realised has been the case with most of the early Hitchcock films I've seen. There's not many films like that around anymore, there always has to be a villain, rather than an antagonist.

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