The Manxman (1929)
Genre: Silent Drama (UK)
Starring: Carl Brisson (The Ring), Anny Ondra (Blackmail)
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (The Pleasure Garden, Family Plot)
Overview: A fisherman and a lawyer from the Isle of Man, best friends since childhood, find that even the strongest friendships can crack under the pressure of a woman's love.
Acting: Hitchcock is a great director and his mastery of players is clear to me at this, my seventh viewing of a film of his. He has a crew that knows to zoom-in and capture the intensity of emotion when it's needed, and his characters are a truly animated bunch, sometimes even to a histrionic point. Though a touch melodramatic, this film's characters warrant their types, and when it comes time to sober up, the shift is even heavier given the exuberance of these people's carefree lives. Yeah, one hell of a performance.
Cinematography: The terrific use of close-ups was eroded a little by a new observation of mine: the occasional beauty shots of ships on the ocean or the sands and rocks where our characters live, though nice, felt forced. Not forced in the sense that they weren't well done or irrelevant, but forced in that 'too many establishing shots' kind of way. Rather than having scenes that took place amongst these beautiful crags or aboard a rustic sailboat with others ships surrounding, the cinematographers simply spliced on some panoramic shots to stagger the action. I'm learning a lesson or two about the montage: make it relevant rather than simply tossing in dailies in editing, no matter how well-shot they are.
Script: I don't know why Hitchcock refrained so frequently from using an appropriate amount of intertitles in his silents, but I didn't have too many complaints about the on-screen time of words in this one. Though one or two more would have been nice, the story is told clearly enough. It's nice seeing the reactions of the characters without a barrage of written explanations. My favorite line was quite character building. Thought the fisherman explained that he wasn't 'good with words', when we read his comically simple letter, we know it by that singular example.
Plot: Girlfriend of Squish was frustrated at the direction this took, asking why she just didn't go the lane of least resistance when faced with a dilemma of the heart, but I replied, "That story's been told, this one far less." I guess that's what good storytelling is about, a tale that you haven't heard a hundred times (literally), the query of "what if" into the less than perfect, different-thinking characters that exist in this world. As love triangles go, this tale is simple, but the trip is a little different than you might expect, and for that, it's worthy of note.
Mood: This is Hitchcock's last silent film, and it's fairly engrossing, tragic themes being what they are. There's no doubt in my mind that Hitchcock's reputation as a great filmmaker had not yet come to pass in the Silent Era. I suppose some people are just better suited for talkies. I suspect (thought I haven't read) that Hitchcock's early career was guided by producers rather than his insistence on a vision, and he let cinematographers do as they pleased. I'm sure to learn more in future readings.
Overall Rating: 76% (No Film Is An Island)
Aftertaste: I guess what I've learned more than anything is that people are surprised that this guy's been around for so long. Imagine a director who's been around long enough that when the wave of the future, the talkie, comes around, he's already directed nine feature films. It's no wonder he was in a league of his own, given that he was swimming leagues ahead of the rest...