For those who have read a lot of my writings on early era films, it should be readily apparent that I’m a sucker for melodramas. From the over the top acting to the sappy love stories, I can’t help but love this stuff. Essentially, I’m hooked on the early film version of Twilight, with all the crazy love triangles and sappy acting.
The Manxman plays with the typical melodramatic setup in a few interesting ways even though it’s strikingly similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Boxer. Every narrative beat, emotional turn and character motivation was one I’d already seen before yet I still enjoyed it.
The Manxman differs from The Boxer by taking place in a wharf town instead of the circus. Beyond that, it’s the same formula. Two men, Pete (Carl Brisson) and Philip (Malcolm Keen) are both in love with Kate Cregeen (Anny Ondra), the daughter of one of the prominent working class men in the area. However, they are both friends, which is the usual with this kind of love triangle.
However, the love triangle is further complicated by social roles. Philip is a poor worker at the wharf and her father discourages his advantages due to his low economic status. Pete, on the other hand, has the opposite problem. He’s a rising lawyer and Kate is well below what would be acceptable for him to marry. How the triangle slightly differs from similar films is that Kate knows who she loves and doesn’t particularly care for the other. It’s only through a surprising turn of events that the triangle begins to turn out for the worst for all members involved.
In terms of visuals, Hitchcock relies more on some fantastic locales to express certain ideas. When two lovers meet outside the town, they convene in the craggy, twisted rocks that lay against the ocean. Therefore, Hitchcock relies more on natural imagery to express psychology.
Some people complain about overacting in the silent era and performances like these are one of the reasons why it’s a common complaints. There are some scenes where Carl Brisson perhaps takes it a bit too far, but other than that, the cast does a good job at conveying the emotion, especially Anny Ondra. Yes, it’s a tad bit overacted, but it’s still effective.
And there are a number of dramatic and harrowing moments. Some of the situations are emotionally devastating and that comes through with some uncanny performances. The ending, in particular is a sucker punch, leaving the audience upended and dazed.
In the body of Hitchcock’s work, it’s of little note. The visual style and morbid sensibilities aren’t present and it doesn’t note any interesting evolution in the director. It’s a film many a silent era director could have made. However, for suckers like me who enjoy the overwrought, melodramatic silent era love triangle, it does a strong job at doing what it’s supposed to do.