At first, this Lon Chaney, Jr. starring vehicle might have you thinking that it is a horror film featuring some sort of strange man/fish hybrid and in fact, it is not. Instead, Manfish is an adventure movie about a couple of men on the hunt for some treasure with Chaney along for the ride. As far as adventure films go, Manfish is not all that bad with its third act stronger than the first two, but it has enough in it to keep you hooked, even though it looks fairly cheap with Chaney delivering a performance you have seen a dozen times over from the man.
Based upon two stories by the great Edgar Allan Poe, namely The Gold-Bug and The Tell-Tale Heart, the film starts off innocently enough with Chaney the lead hand on the Manfish, a fishing boat and serving under a man named Brannigan as played by John Bromfield. If one can be in love with a ship, it is Chaney’s character Swede and when someone disrespects her, the Swede gets angry. Soon the Professor enters the picture, portrayed quite excellently by Victor Jory, as well as a French treasure map and you can feel the heat immediately between him and Brannigan. They are soon off on a quest, dragging Chaney along who could not care any less about what they do, as long as he gets to be with the ship.
It is a little tedious watching Chaney do the same routine as seen in many other films including Of Mice and Men. Perhaps he merely took such roles as a safety net or he simply felt comfortable doing as such and while tedious, you still have to love the man because he is so charismatic no matter the role. As you watch the film, you still hope that he will transform into some sort of fish monster, but alas, those hopes are never realized. What is most interesting about Chaney’s character is that simple though he might be, he worries about nothing and lives everyday enjoying the simple things that life has to offer. It is an idyllic way to live that few people ever do and you have to envy the man for it.
As stated earlier, the third act of the film is the strongest and when the movie is most exciting. There is murder and betrayal fueled by greed and while you sort of know what is coming, you have no idea just what form it will take and even after the act is committed, the tension continues to climb until it snaps and we get our happy ending. The latter half of the film also features the best scene in the entire movie, that being where Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart comes in and it delivers some very solid suspense and more than a thrill or two.
Deceiving though this picture might be at first, especially given the presence of Chaney, Manfish still turned out all right. It will definitely entertain and is a nice way to spend an afternoon with a couple of hours to spare.
3 out of 5