“The Manxman” (1929)

IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH ALFRED HITCHCOCK REVIEW: “The Manxman” stars Anny Ondra (Blackmail, Honeymoon), Carl Brisson (The Ring [1927], All the King’s Horses), Malcolm Keen (Scotland Yard Commands, 77 Park Lane), Randle Ayrton (Decameron Nights, Tower of Strength), and Clare Greet (Mrs. Dane’s Defence, Lord Camber’s Ladies). It is directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Rope, Vertigo), with the story being adapted to screen by Eliot Stannard (The Laughing Cavalier, Fatal Fingers).

Based on a novel, this film follows Kate Cregeen (Ondra) and Philip Christian (Keen) as they cover-up their hidden romance when their mutual friend Pete Quillam (Brisson) – long thought dead – returns from the sea to wed Cregeen after she had promised herself to him.

We’ve reached the end of the line with this marathon. One that has taken me longer than anticipated (I believe I started watching/preparing these all the way back in January). Given how these are silent films that reach runtimes of two hours, I’m not all that surprised of the length to prep this. Thankfully, we conclude on a good note with Hitchcock’s engaging adaptation of “The Manxman.”

Hitchcock is no stranger to romance. Pretty much all of the silent features I have reviewed of his consisted of love, whether forbidden or lost. 1929’s “The Manxman” takes a stab at the forbidden angle, focusing on a love triangle that will surely put you on the edge of your seat, even if spoken dialogue isn’t present. A woman promises herself to a lowly fisherman, who declares that he will sail out and return with riches from Africa; while away, the fisherman asks of his lawyer friend – a man of higher stature, and equally in love with the same woman – to keep an eye on his beloved. What transpires is a drama full of restraint, sadness, and ultimately pain. In my opinion, Hitchcock is coming into form.

The performances of “The Manxman” are what take the cake. Hitchcock assembles a small ensemble of actors from his previous silent works, with Carl Brisson (“The Ring”) and Malcom Keen (“The Lodger”) playing the men of this triangle, and Anny Ondra (who worked with Hitchcock on “Blackmail”) being the woman stuck in the middle. All three of them did a terrific job. Brisson portrayed the passionate underdog well, while Keen fit the shoes of the reserved, hopeless romantic. Ondra knocked it out of the park, particularly in how she expressed the agony she endured while having to live out a lie when Quillam returned from sea. This is a dark, saddening feature, folks. One that gave me some bad dreams the night I saw it.

Over the span of an hour and fifty minutes, we watched as two lovers tried to keep their connection a secret. But no matter how long time passed, it could not fill the hole left by each others’ absence. I’ve never read the novel this was based on, though I can say that as a feature Hitchcock captured the driving themes excellently. He allowed for his actors to chew the scenes, with striking close-ups and full shots that put their internal struggle on display. Some moments held for a bit too long (as is the case with most, if not all, of these silent flicks), but ultimately Hitchcock’s pacing was solid.

I enjoyed this picture, which came as a relief since I was dreading having to watch it (getting in the mood to watch any silent film is a challenge). This is due to the strong performances and fascination in a story that is so rich in heavy drama that I couldn’t wander away in my mind. Without going into spoilers (yes, it was made almost 100 years ago, but if you are interested I don’t want to give too much away), things get wild. Like, seriously wild. When I say that Anny Odra’s Kate Creegen goes through the ringer, she truly does; the depth of this cover-up is insane, only to lead to a finale that isn’t all too happy. In some respects, there is resolution. Characters own up to who they are and what they have done, but the aftermath is something that can never be fully forgiven. In a way, this points to Hitchcock’s knack for providing chilling endings that will only be strengthened as he progresses through the years of his craft.

“The Manxman” is probably my favorite picture of this marathon. Not only that, but it’s a solid silent feature. There’s not much physicality like a Buster Keaton flick, nor insane visual spectacles to keep you entertained, but truly wonderful performances and masterful direction that leave you pondering what will happen next. If you are looking for something to pick up within the silent era, this is a good choice. FINAL SCORE: 80%= Juicy Popcorn

Here is the full film:

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