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

The Ring (1927)

Although this wasn’t Hitchcock’s first film (he made at least five before this one, although at least one of those in deemed ‘lost’ [1926’s The Mountain Eagle] and another two unfinished [Number 13 and Always Tell Your Wife, from 1922 and 1923 respectively]) The Ring is the earliest one I can get my hands on at present, so my travels through the history of Hitch will have to begin here. Telling the story of an amateur boxer working at a carnival who gets a shot at the big time after he is scouted by a renowned heavyweight, The Ring almost knocked me out for being a Hitchcock film about one of the least Hitchcockian subjects, sport.
Carl Brisson is Jack ‘One Round’ Sander, who makes his living by challenging regular schmoes to a boxing match at a carnival. His fiance (Lillian Hall-Davis) chews gums as she works the ticket counter, and his friends are his assistants and announcer. One night, after dispatching the usual rag-tag band of hopefuls fairly promptly – one of whom defeats himself as he enters the ring – Jack meets his match against Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), who unbeknownst to Jack is an Australian heavyweight champion, and has already been making moves on his girl. After the fight, Bob claims his reward (a grand total of £2.00), and tells Jack he plans to give him his chance with the professionals. Bob and Jack’s fiance, and eventually his wife, become much closer as Jack becomes more successful, which leads to a love triangle developing between the three, coming to a head when Jack and Bob fight on another at the end of the film.

Had I not known this was a Hitchcock film, I would have been very surprised to discover the fact. Other than themes of deception and suspicion, this does not seem to fit within the rest of his work. Even the leading female is a brunette! Now I’m sure that Hitchcock obviously didn’t start out as a master film-maker – truly brilliant debut films are few and far between – but I had hoped for more than this, as this film is at best just mediocre. The plot is nothing special, and feels dragged out even at less than 90 minutes, and when you consider that the last 10+ minutes of this are a boxing match that feels like it lasts at least an hour, then the pacing is really quite a problem.

Hitchcock’s infamous mysogany and sexism is evident in places. Though she is essentially the third lead, Hall-Davis’ character is only ever referred to as ‘The Girl,’ even though her character has is called Millie. In both the opening credits and her introductory title card she is given that fairly vague, nondescript title. There is some interesting camerawork, especially early on in the initial fight, with the camera remaining stationery, pointed at Jack’s opponent’s corner of the ring, as the would-be fighter heads off screen to fight, only to be thrown back a second later, dishevelled and clearly defeated. However other than this and some occasional semi-dream sequences and video distortion to emulate rage, drunkeness and being knocked out, there isn’t much to take note of.

The title of ‘The Ring‘ most obviously refers to the boxing ring within which a fair amount of the film takes place, however it also refers to the wedding ring (this is possibly the first cinematic incarnation of a best man losing the ring), a bangle given to Millie by Bob, a forune-teller’s ring of cards and the circular nature of the plot, as the final scenes are very similar to the opening one, with Millie watching on as the two men fight it out. By the end, they are no longer just fighting for money and a title, but for honour, pride and the hand of the woman they both love.

I had one major gripe with the film. Throughout the story we are shown countless posters advertising boxing matches, upon which are the names of dozens of boxers. Yet of them all, Jack is the only one with a nickname. (Although at one point someone dates the movie a tad by referring to a boxer in a less than affectionate racial slur that I don’t care to repeat.) Surely at least one of the others would have a stage name, for the sake of realism? Also, look out for one of Bob’s assistants, who looks spot on like Jack Nance in Eraserhead.

Before watching this, I’d yet to see a Hitchcock film I hadn’t at least liked. I hope dearly that his learning curve was steep, and he got better very quickly.

Choose life 4/10