Manxman, The: Hitchcock’s Ninth, Last Silent Film

Hitchcock himself did not like his ninth film, Manxman, telling Francois Truffaut in the book format interview: “The only point of interest about that movie is that it was my last silent film.”

Although he was established as a master of suspense by 1929, Hitchcock was still under contract to British International Pictures and thus obligated to direct what the studio chose for him.

A romantic triangle tale based on a novel by Hall Caine, shot on location in the Isle of Man, “The Manxman” concerns the local fisherman Pete (Carl Brisson), the law student Philip (Malcolm Keen), and their mutual love interest, the beautiful village girl Kate (played by German actress Anny Ondra).

The film’s title may refer to either of the story’s two males. When Pete is reported drowned, Kate turns to Philip for solace. Never suspecting that Kate has been unfaithful to him, Pete goes on to marry the girl. Eventually she bears Philip’s child, which Pete assumes is his.

Unable to lie to her husband anymore, Kate attempts suicide, which according to the laws of the Island is a crime. Kate is brought before the judge, who happens to be no other than her ex-lover Philip.

Confronted with the truth by Kate’s father (who has suspected all along that she and Philip have had an affair), Philip gives up his legal career to make an “honest woman” out of Kate.

Though Kate is at the center, the tale is really about Philip’s plight and dilemmas, ambition versus love, friendship versus loyalty. The tale begins with a title quoting Jesus in the New Testament: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”

An unrelentingly dour film, “The Manxman” is nonetheless nicely photographed by Jack Cox. Some images stand out, as for example, the use of a diary to convey the passage of time and the evolution of the affair. Also striking is a watermill sequence, in which Kate and Philip meet, which later serves as the setting of the wedding banquet.

When Kate attempts suicide, in the harbor’s black water, Hitchcock dissolves to the black ink in Philip’s pen. The love scenes on the high cliffs (a favorite locale of Hitchcock) are also impressively depicted.

The image of a large threatening bird appears on a tapestry, and there is a portrait of Philip’s ancestor, an icon that serves to remind him of the impact of the past and family tradition on his present life. Both images—the bird and the portrait—would recur in countless Hitchcock films in the future.

Sensing that the film would not appeal to a mass audience, BIP withheld release of “The Manxman” until after the Hitchcock’s first talkie, “Blackmail,” hit the theaters.


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Hall Caine, Eliot Stannard
DVD: Mar 29, 2005

Carl Brisson as Pete Quilliam
Malcolm Keen as Philip Christian
Anny Ondra as Kate
Randle Ayrton as Kate’s Father
Clare Greet as her Mother
Kim Peacock as Ross Christian