The Manxman

1929, Movie, NR, 123 mins

Review

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A love triangle played out on the Isle of Man is the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's last silent film, THE MANXMAN, an uncharacteristic example of Hitchcock with tongue out of cheek.

Pete (Carl Brisson), a fisherman, and Phillip (Malcom Keen), a lawyer, are best friends. Pete is in love with Kate (Anny Ondra), the daughter of Caesar. Pete persuades his more articulate friend to ask Caesar for Kate's hand on his behalf. Caesar harshly rejects the proxy proposal, dismissing Pete as a "penniless lout." As a result, the spurned suitor decides to sail to Africa to make his fortune. Before he leaves, Kate frivolously pledges to wait for him, even though she is falling in love with Philip.

During Pete's absence, Kate is drawn into a romance with Philip, who had promised Pete to look after her. After having been reported dead, Pete suddenly returns home a rich man, and Philip persuades Kate to keep her promise to marry his friend. A few months later Kate tells Philip that the baby she is carrying is not her husband's but his.

Sometime after the birth of her child, Kate writes Pete a note, telling him she has left him for an unnamed man. Philip, who is on the verge of being appointed to an important judgeship, reluctantly turns her away when she comes to him. Kate returns home to get her baby, "all I have left in the world," but Pete refuses to relinquish custody, even after Kate informs him that the child is not his.

After being pulled out of the river, Kate is charged with attempted suicide and brought before Philip, who is now a judge. At one point in the court proceedings, Caesar rises and denounces Philip as the third party in the affair. Guilt-ridden and shamed, Philip resigns his judgeship on the spot. After Kate, Philip, and their baby, jeered by the townswomen, go off together, Pete, heartbroken and bereft, puts out to sea.

"A very banal picture," recalled Hitchcock in his interviews with Francois Truffaut. "It was not a Hitchcock movie." Perhaps cowed by the enormous popularity of the source novel, the director resisted any temptation to indulge the playfulness and wit he was soon to become noted for, and created one of his most earnest but least idiosyncratic films. THE MANXMAN's most mischievous moment occurs when Kate's physician comes downstairs after delivering her baby and asks Pete and Philip which one of them is the father, but even this little naughty joke is cushioned, as the doctor's question is not rendered in an intertitle and has to be deduced from the wordless response of Philip, who glumly points to Pete.

"The mills of God grind slowly," declaims Caesar, and so do the reels of THE MANXMAN, which is exceedingly deliberate and quite somber. Its characters are often frozen in full-face by a camera that lingers at length over their silent discomfort and impotence, revealed frequently in large close-up. Although the motivation for Kate's perverse and fatal whim to commit herself to Pete is unclear, THE MANXMAN's eternal-triangle dilemma gradually deepens and ultimately pays off: The gravity and admirably antimelodramatic sobriety of the last reel or two succeed in earning genuine sympathy for the plight of the film's three well-meaning protagonists.

Shot in the county of Cornwall, a stand-in for the Isle of Man, THE MANXMAN includes some impressive location work, particularly a scene played amidst a group of spectacularly freakish rock formations. While Carl Brisson's Liberace smile becomes a little silly after a while, Polish-born Anny Ondra (accurately described by Variety as a "small blonde with plenty of s.a.[sex appeal]") has several affecting moments as Kate. (Adult situations.) leave a comment

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