Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Manxman (1929)

  • The Master’s last fully silent film is a haunting romantic drama
  • Carl Brisson, star of The Ring, is caught up in another love triangle
  • Secrets and lies prepared star Anny Ondra for her lead in Blackmail
  • The beautiful coastline is the uncredited fourth star of this lyrical masterpiece
  • The original negative survives, making this one of Hitchcock’s best looking British films
  • The beautifully restored version looks like it could have been shot yesterday
  • This fine film has dozens of muddy bootlegs but only a handful of quality official releases
  • At a glance: all the best DVD and HD digital versions available

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

This is a poetic telling of the travails of star-crossed lovers in a remote fishing community, starring Dane Carl Brisson in his second Hitchcock after The Ring, and Polish-Czech Anny Ondra just prior to her lead in Blackmail. The third lead is Malcolm Keen, playing his third major Hitchcock role, following The Lodger and The Mountain Eagle. It’s based on Hall Caine’s hugely successful 1894 novel of the same name, which was adapted several times into an equally successful, widely staged and long-running play. The Manxman was first filmed in 1916, though that version is now lost. In most respects Hitch’s take on it is definitely near the top of his British film heap and once again the original pressbook does it proud.

UK Kine Weekly trade magazine ad, 21.1.1929.

UK Kine Weekly trade magazine ad, 21.1.1929. Nice design overall, but what in hell happened to his hand? It’s massive!

The Manxman is possessed of an all-round artistry which is hard to fault: acting, direction, cinematography, etc. are all a joy just to bask in. But its one weak link is the underlying story. As with The Ring, its highly questionable gender politics hold it back. This time the situation is just as bad but completely reversed: the woman doesn’t get a say in choosing her own destiny and the wishes and desires of the men in her life take precedent at every juncture. In fairness, one of them is an unwitting participant in these jeux du coeur and is kept in the dark until the final act. In case you’re thinking it, this is more than merely my 21st century sensibilities unfairly judging a scenario based on a dated Victorian novel. Rather, it’s about characters who don’t behave the way most normal people would, then or now, and instead constantly make nonsensical decisons. It’s a pity Hitch didn’t take it upon himself to alter the source to the same degree he did elsewhere, though at this point in his career he perhaps didn’t have the requiste freedom or clout. However, if you can overlook its central flaw, this film is a box of delights and well worth exploring.

The Manxman (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) was set on the Isle of Man but actually filmed in Cornwall

The Manxman was set on the Isle of Man but actually filmed in Cornwall

The as yet unavailable 2012 restoration is transferred at 20fps (100min) and looks absolutely immaculate in its original B&W. Stephen Horne’s re-première score for piano, fiddle, viola, oboe percussion and folk harp is a deft mélange of traditional and classical instrumentation that really complements the film’s drama and beauty.

“The restoration team were fortunate in being able to work largely from an original negative of The Manxman held by the BFI National Archive. However, parts of the negative had deteriorated so these sections were compared, shot by shot, with a print made in the 1960s and replaced where necessary. One longer shot, in the scene where Kate and Phil meet in a sunlit glade, was found in another vintage 1920s print in the Archive’s collection, proving the value of keeping all available original materials. This shot also required extra grading work as the copy had been made on a rotary printer which had introduced light fluctuations every few frames. Careful grading ensured that the film’s original ‘look’ was maintained throughout. The titles were completely remade from reconstructed fonts exactly matching the originals and the material went through the usual painstaking digital clean-up process. Long-term preservation material has been made on 35mm film as well as access prints in both film and digital formats. – BFI programme notes

Anny Ondra and Carl Brisson in The Manxman (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Anny Ondra and Carl Brisson look forward to a lifetime of wedded blitz

A commercial release can’t come soon enough for the restoration, but as you’d expect, given its source, the previous transfer looks fantastic too. Certainly, if all extant silents were in a similar condition I’d be more than happy. All current releases feature a Xavier Berthelot piano score and the same excellent transfer, running at 24fps (83min). The PAL DVDs, which is all of them bar the US, have an additional 4% speed-up (80min). The US DVD is very slightly more detailed, with the digital HD version even more so, and both uniquely have open framing. This means the the entire image is exposed, including its rounded corners, which are usually matted off. I really like it: as long as the correct aspect ratio is maintained, under-matting is definitely preferable to over-matting.

The Manxman (1929) US Lionsgate DVD

US Lionsgate DVD

The Manxman (1929) French Studiocanal DVD

French Studiocanal DVD


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For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see the About page.

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