Manuela

Movies which play out for the most part in confined spaces typically generate tension, the limited options available to the characters mirrored by their spatial restrictions. Another layer is added when the dramatic space involved is to be found on a vehicle, a train or a ship for instance. When this occurs the concept of a journey is naturally woven into the fabric of the drama. A journey is generally of interest in itself, even when approached on the simplest and most literal of terms, and that interest rises if it can be viewed as a metaphor for the characters’ progress through life. It is this spiritual or emotional journey which resides at the heart of Manuela (1957), a modest, self-contained and deeply satisfying work directed by Guy Hamilton in the years before Hollywood and the James Bond movies beckoned.

There’s nothing like a death to focus the mind on life, and that’s essentially what happens as this movies opens. The story is one of a ship and more particularly the master of that vessel. That opening has him setting off to lay his chief engineer to rest in the South American port where he has docked. The ship is a beaten up tramp freighter and its equally weathered and weary captain is James Prothero (Trevor Howard). He’s seen to be drifting into a dissatisfied and increasingly drunken middle age, commenting at one point on how the passage of the years has not only crept up on him but also caught him unawares, leaving him with that unwelcome sense that there is more time behind him than there is lying ahead. Yet despite his conviction that he’s teetering on the brink of a bitter autumn, events are about to take a wholly unexpected turn, one which will see him enjoying something of a late spring instead. Taking advantage  of the amorous and expansive nature of Maltese crew member Mario (Pedro Armendariz), a beautiful half English girl Manuela (Elsa Martinelli) inveigles her way on board as a stowaway. Her presence seems set to cause friction and does so initially but it’s her longer term effect on the jaded captain that drives the drama. As he experiences a renewed appetite for life, he becomes distracted from his duties, switching his attention to the course he’d like to see his life following as opposed to the potentially hazardous one his vessel is in the process of navigating.

Guy Hamilton appears to have been a very polished man and that cool, worldly sophistication shows through in his movies. After serving an apprenticeship as assistant director under the likes of John Huston and Carol Reed, Hamilton went on to take charge of a number of well made British dramas including an adaptation of Priestley’s An Inspector Calls as well as The Intruder, a little known gem with Jack Hawkins. In Manuela everything revolves around priorities, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the recognition of what they are; that and the fact it’s never too late to reassess and realign those priorities. While there is some very moody imagery via Otto Heller’s cinematography and a few quite dark moments, the overall tone of the movie is uplifting and optimistic. The story was filmed with two different endings – it’s an adaptation of a novel by William Woods, although not having read that I can’t say which one is more faithful to the source – and without going into details and spoilers I’ll just state that I vastly prefer the one used as the default for this release.

“… suddenly tonight, I saw myself growing old. And I didn’t like it. When you’re young you see the good days all ahead of you. Then suddenly you get older and catch sight of them behind you and wonder how in the devil’s name they got there.”

Trevor Howard had the lived in appearance that oozes character, his was a face and manner made for mature drama. The arc traced throughout this picture by Prothero is achieved skillfully and artfully. The bitterness and resignation of the first act is a brittle veneer that cracks completely with the arrival of the girl. What is revealed is a soul not yet aged irreversibly but hungry to taste hope once again. Of course for this kind of reawakening to make any sense, or have any credibility, it’s vital to have the right person providing the impetus. A young Elsa Martinelli easily fits that bill, exuding attraction and a frank charm. While those two are at the heart of the drama it’s also important to acknowledge the contribution of Pedro Armendariz. His role is a complex one, a figure of ebullience and menace too, a dangerous romantic with a dark side and generous heart, a braggart who is simultaneously a confessor. In support we get a number of familiar faces and talented figures from British cinema. Donald Pleasence has a sizeable role as a repressed and ultimately mean-spirited officer, one of those professional and spiritual zealots he excelled at playing. Other notables are Jack MacGowran, Warren Mitchell and Roger Delgado.

Blind buying movies can be a bit of a gamble and there’s no doubt that it doesn’t always pay off. However, an interesting cast and/or crew as well as an eye-catching piece of poster art will often get this viewer’s attention. Manuela was one of those blind buys when it showed up at a knockdown price in one of Network’s regular sales a few years ago. From a purely technical standpoint, it’s a terrific looking DVD with a sharp, smooth 1.66:1 image. I liked the fact the disc offered the alternative ending as an bonus feature. Apparently, different endings were used for the UK and overseas releases (according to IMDb at any rate) and I’m unsure which one is the default on the DVD – the UK one, presumably. This was a movie I viewed with absolutely no prior knowledge and consequently no particular expectations. Admittedly, there are a few inconsistencies in the script and some loose ends which are left untied. Nevertheless, I found it all a highly enjoyable experience and it’s a title I’m happy to recommend.

Edit: The movie was released in the US under the alternative title Stowaway Girl.

68 thoughts on “Manuela

  1. Went looking for this and came up empty-handed until I discovered, almost by accident, that it has an alternate title (at least in the US): STOWAWAY GIRL. That may be helpful information to others like me who will jump on anything that Colin recommends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the James Mason / Dorothy Dandridge movie, Chris? I haven’t seen that one so I can’t comment. I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has seen both though.

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      • Thats right. The opening of the review above, ‘confined spaces’ and ‘concept of a journey’ reminded me of The Decks Ran Red, which took place on a freighter . Best regards.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Colin
    Again, you have hit the mark with this wonderful write-up of a superb performance by Howard. I caught this one quite some time ago on a somewhat weathered 2nd generation vhs. I recall being drawn into the story as each character’s own story blends in with Howard’s own. Fine work here by the entire cast and crew. D of p Otto Heller should be mentioned here as well. His work on THE QUEEN OF SPADES, THE CRIMSON PIRATE, NOW BARRABAS, THE SQUARE RING, RICHARD III, THE LADYKILLERS and THE IPCRESS FILE as well as many others stands out in my books. I really need to lay my hands on a better print and give this a re-watch.
    Many thanks my good fellow for the memory jog.
    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always regarded Trevor Howard highly as an actor. Somehow he never seemed to look young even when he was, in early films like “BRIEF ENCOUNTER”, “THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE” & “THE CLOUDED YELLOW” but his performances raised any film he was in.
    I very much enjoyed your review of “MANUELA”, Colin, a film I have not seen (one of the few Howard films from those years I haven’t seen) and what you wrote was enough for me to order a copy of the Network release. It sounds excellent. I will put up some thoughts once viewed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I very much hope you enjoy it then, Jerry, since I seem to have persuaded you to order a copy. Either way, let us know what you think.
      On Trevor Howard never seeming to look young, I recall making a similar observation years ago when I wrote a piece on Golden Salamander.

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  4. Like you, I am a fan of Hamilton’s approach, which is somehow stylish without being obtrusive enough to really draw attention. I just re-watched FUNERAL BERLIN, the sequel to IPCRESS FILE that shared its cinematographer and production designer but which has a completely different visual design and tempo. But it is wonderfully fluid and precise, without anything extraneous whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As soon as I read the cast list, I knew I had to see this. I’ve been consistently impressed by Network’s releases, although ironically I had to order this from Amazon, as I’m moving house in a couple of weeks and they deliver a lot faster!

    I’ve seen very few films with Trevor Howard as the lead – the stuff I grew with on British TV was usually his later films, when he was typecast as ‘crusty old Brit’ … although even then he tended to act most people off the screen. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think I would have been in a similar position and came to Trevor Howard’s earlier work later, which seems a little odd when you think about it. I think the Network disc will meet with your approval, it looks very impressive to me.
      And the best of luck with the move!

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      • Well, that was an interesting piece of work. For the British film industry, clearly not a low-budget movie – there’s quite a lot of location filming, even apart from on the ship. (Both endings were filmed on location, so I’d guess the two alternatives were intended – I’d also assume the one in the main film was the UK ending, which, like you, I much preferred!)

        It didn’t play out the way I expected at all – I actually laughed quite a lot during the first part – presumably where the film makers would have wanted me to. It’s a good study of character, aided by some great performances. There’s one incident in a scene in a boat that made me smirk – it’s clearly lifted from a similar moment in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy …

        Thanks for the recommendation – a definite forgotten high-point of Trevor Howard’s career. And you can see why Donald Pleasance was rarely out of work, too!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Forgot to mention that as usual Network have done their customary brilliant job – I’ve discovered or rediscovered so many great (and some not so great) films through them. Did you ever get round to getting hold of the Dan Duryea UK B movie ‘Do you know this voice?’

          Liked by 1 person

        • I’m very pleased to hear you liked this one, it’s nice to be able to recommend movies but you never know how they play with others.

          Yes, I agree that it certainly doesn’t have the look of some quota quickie.

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  6. Colin, hope you will forgive if I veer away from the film under question.

    Like to mention two very different films I have seen this weekend, both enjoyable. First up was the latest Woody Allen release “A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK”, one of his fairly typical but always enjoyable romantic comedies, set mostly during a heavy rainstorm in Manhattan, with some great music throughout from the recordings of Errol Garner. For those who enjoy Allen’s lighter works, this should please.

    The other film was 1954’s “HELL’S OUTPOST” with a screenplay by Kenneth Gamet, who wrote a number for Randolph Scott westerns from, a Luke Short story. From Republic Studio and starring Rod Cameron, Joan Leslie, John Russell, Jim Davis, Ben Cooper……even had Harry Woods in a small role.
    Not an unfamiliar plotline by any means (but that is fine with me) but handled most effectively by Joe Kane. This was showing on us ‘oldsters’ favourite TV channel, Talking Pictures, with a lovely sharp print in its correct aspect of 1.66:1. Action all the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Count me as one more who has already ordered this too based on your enticing review. Somehow it almost sounds something like a Joseph Conrad story (from a literary standpoint, no higher compliment from me) but that may be partly because Trevor Howard was so well cast in the lead in Carol Reed’s 1952 adaptation of AN OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to it even if it’s a gamble. I’ve only seen three films directed by Guy Hamilton–not a James Bond fan I didn’t care about GOLDFINGER, while THE MIRROR CRACK’D was kind of lame, and the earlier THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE just so-so. But I’m open minded on this.

    Somehow, I’ve now ordered three movies in the last month that I’ve never seen, not something I ordinarily ever do but maybe in the present world and the way things are now I’m less inclined to worry about a fistful of pesos.

    All three owed to this blog. I ordered THE MISSION after Frank Gibbons wrote something about it, and especially that Ennio Morricone’s score is considered one of his best and was one the composer especially cared about. Somehow I never saw this movie though I’ve always intended to and it has been strongly recommended to me by others over the years.

    The other one is THE INTRUDER (1962, Roger Corman), another movie I’ve always wanted to see, a movie that it’s known Corman made because he wanted to and his only one that lost money. I was reminded of this one when Leo Gordon was mentioned earlier and I got interested to read his Wikipedia entry and the movie was cited there. It turned out the price was very cheap–not much more than the price of a rental. I’m not sorry that I haven’t seen it before–it looks to be especially resonant in the present.

    Yes, I know Guy Hamilton also directed a movie called THE INTRUDER. So, nice coincidence there.

    Anyway, thanks for writing on MANUELA, which I never even heard of before this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well again, I hope this movie lives up to the build up for everyone. Anyway, feel free to tell me whether you loved it, loathed it, or anything in between.

      Oddly enough, or perhaps not so odd given the current global situation as you say, I’ve also found myself picking up more stuff either on recommendation or just on a whim these days.

      Like

  8. Folks
    A slight turn in direction. Go to Google, type in, MANHUNT tv series 1960 Gail Russell. An episode of the Victor Jory Police show should pop up. It is the second last production that Miss Russell appeared in. It was made a year before she died. I thought a few here might like a gander at it. There is also an episode of THE REBEL with Miss Russell there. I was looking for something else and stumbled on to it.

    Gord

    Liked by 2 people

  9. R.I.P.
    Olivia Mary de Havilland was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan, She died July 26th 2020 in Paris
    Not sure what to say here. A beauty who could act, a rare combination indeed. Her films with Errol Flynn alone are enough to bring a smile to my face. I’m sure someone here can say something about her with more eloquence. than I.

    Gordon

    Liked by 2 people

    • Every time a piece o news like this comes through another link to the golden age of cinema is broken. Inevitable though this is, it does sadden me. Olivia de Havilland is one of the last “big” names we still had around and her grace and class on screen was and remains a testament to cinema’s glory days.
      RIP

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  10. Hi, Gord – you’re a champ for posting the information about Manhunt and Gail Russell. I have just watched that episode and was thrilled to see her again. She Is one of my favourite actresses and a rare beauty, I believe. Her beauty had changed by the time she made Seven Men From Now, in comparison to her fragile innocence in Angel and The Bad Man. Sad to see that her appearance had significantly faded by the time of this 1960 TV show. Mind you, even then she was a hell of a lot better looking than I have ever been.

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  11. You are welcome.
    The difference in her looks from even 5 years before is quite something. Take a look at that episode of THE REBEL I mentioned with Miss Russell.
    Gord

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  12. Gord – THE REBEL episode is hard to watch. She is unrecognisable from a few years earlier. So very sad. I believe she could have been a major star if only fate had treated her better. Canberra is having a cold spell this week: minimums getting down to -4 degrees C. I know you think that sounds like spring in Calgary!

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  13. It truly was something, the change in the woman’s appearance over such a short period.

    Weather wise it hit plus 31 c on Sunday here then 30 yesterday. Today and tomorrow they are calling for a quite pleasant 23 degrees. The week before last was bloody golf ball sized hail and storms. At least a billion bucks in hail damage in town. It beat the hell out of my new air con unit.
    Gord

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  14. NERO WOLFE
    While I know of the various books, films and tv series based on the character Wolfe, I must admit I have never watched any of them. I know there are fans here, so here is something I found of the net. It is a one off pilot episode for a possible series. This one starred, Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin.
    Go to google, type in Nero Wolfe 1959 William Shatner and it should pop up.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was aware of that one but haven’t seen it before, so thanks for the tip.
      The Maury Chaykin/Timothy Hutton version is widely regarded as the best and I’ll not try to argue against that. The truth is though that for me, reading Rex Stout’s books and stories remains the most pleasurable way of experiencing the characters and their world.

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  15. I’ve not read any of Rex Stout’s books (yet) but Columbia put Edward Arnold in a ‘one-off’ film in 1936, “MEET NERO WOLFE” that I have and found it unusual and engaging. Plus, on TV William Conrad starred as Wolfe in a short-lived series (14 episodes) in 1981.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen a few of those William Conrad/Lee Horsley episodes too, some on original broadcast and then, I think, online.
      Jerry, the novels and novellas are highly recommended, as much for the wonderful dynamic which powers the Wolfe/Archie relationship as the detective plots. The books are clever, witty, readable and indeed rereadable.

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  16. Films For The Weekend – Last Weekend In Fact

    Never got around to posting my views on my last post on weekend films. So here it is.

    TIMBER STAMPEDE 1939 George O’Brien New for me – Good duster with O’Brien has our man battling some evil lumberjack types for control of the range.

    HE DESPERADO 1954 Wayne Morris, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef New for me – Low rent but entertaining western where Van Cleff plays a pair of less than friendly gunslinger twins.

    CHERNOBYL 5 part UK mini series New for me – Interesting series with Jared Harris as the Soviet type who finally broke the story on how the Soviets damn near turned the whole of Europe into a radioactive wasteland.

    THE GIANT CLAW 1957 Another of those 50’s sci-fi quickie productions. Stars Jeff Morrow and the always pretty Mara Corday. – I had forgotten just how bad this film really is. And to think I liked this as a kid? Brrrrrrrrrrr

    Gord

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  17. I know, and like, the two westerns you saw, Gord, but have not seen the others (Like your wry comments re The Giant Claw LOL).

    My new Network DVD of “MANUELA” has just arrived so I very much look forward to getting into that. Yesterday watched “SWORD IN THE DESERT” (1949), a controversial (at least in Britain) film that elicited interesting comment on this blog recently. Good cast and director.
    Also watched “CHICAGO CALLING” (1951), a ‘small beer’ movie that I had never heard of and starring Dan Duryea who gave a terrific, underplayed performance. Maybe the best I have ever seen him. Good film that is unusual because it portrays life in the U.S. at the time for people living on the poverty line. Quite powerful actually.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A couple of movies there that interest me very much, Jerry.
      For myself, the last few days have seen me watching Funeral in Berlin, which Sergio reminded me about and I had a very good time with both the plotting and visuals of that one. There was also a western, but that’s all I’m saying as it might pop up as a feature in the next few days, or not – we’ll see.
      Feeling in the mood for something romantic, I also took in The Ghost and Mrs Muir, a magical movie that captivates from the first and does little wrong. I plan for there to be a number of Joseph L Mankiewicz movies on this site in the coming months.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Because of the current turmoil going on in the US, I decided to read Doctor Zhivago to see if there were parallels to be found in Russia during the Revolution and the ensuing Civil War. I followed this by watching an 8 part Russian mini-series called “The White Guard” (2012) which takes place in Kiev in 1918-1919. I read the novel some years ago. I enjoyed “The White Guard” very much but given the fact that there were 20 coups in Kiev between 1918 & 1920, it’s somewhat difficult to follow the storyline. There are lots of switching of sides, cowardice, and betrayal but also examples of courage and integrity while a way of life disintegrates. Pursuing the Russian theme, I watched “Sobibor” (2018) directed by Konstantin Khabenskiy who was one of the actors in “The White Guard”. It’s about the only successful uprising in a concentration camp during WWII. It’s not without its flaws but I recommend it. There’s a haunting scene of women being led to the “showers” where we see them gassed to death. I then decided to view “Escape From Sobibor” (1987) an American movie made for TV with Rutger Hauer and Alan Arkin. It’s less expressionistic and violent than “Sobibor” but it’s not bad.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I went off my original track and just started following a broader theme involving recent Russian cinema. Previous to this last burst of viewing, I had never seen a Russian (Soviet) film that was made after 1977. Last night I watched “9th Company” (2005) directed by Fedor Bondarchuk. Bondarchuk is the son of the Soviet filmmaker Sergey Bondarchuk who is famous for “War and Peace” (1966). I’ve seen W&P which, depending upon the cut, runs anywhere from 401 – 453 minutes and which won an Academy Award in 1969 as the Best Foreign Film. Great film and much better than the Fonda-Hepburn version (which I kind of like although Fonda is 30 years older than the character he is playing).

        I think “9th Company” might appeal to some of your readership. It is about the Battle for Hill 3234 that took place during the Soviet-Afghan war. The younger Bondarchuk seems to have been influenced by “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon.” The final firefight is one of the most exciting and frightening I’ve seen on film. The Soviet officers and grunts display great courage but the big question remains what were they fighting for? In hindsight, one of the survivors realizes they fought only for themselves and for their brothers in arms.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Most informative. I’m not at all familiar with Russian films, and very little East European cinema at all if I’m being honest. Something else I need to attend to in future.

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  19. Colin, I have just watched “MANUELA”, a first ever viewing for me. It only arrived yesterday but I wanted to view it while your review is still current.
    I enjoyed the film a great deal, the beautiful print put out by Network playing its part. Trevor Howard was absolutely perfect for the part of a gruff, world-weary sea dog – one of Britain’s finest actors. I confess I was not expecting an optimistic ending (but was glad of it). The alternative ending we are able to view was the one I was expecting.
    Very pleased to have been pointed in the direction of buying it for myself. I hope Blake and Sergio enjoy the film as much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pleased you liked the movie, Jerry, especially after you sought it out after my comments on it. Network did a bang up job on that release and I find a good presentation does have an effect on the way I feel about a movie.

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  20. I’ve now seen it and enjoyed it very much. Beautiful-looking DVD that shows off the excellent black-and-white cinematography here. And it was mostly well-done so a few points up for Guy Hamilton for me here.

    For me, it was just a little flawed in a kind of attenuated first half hour, which was almost entirely about Pedro Armendariz lusting after Elsa Martinelli. That wasn’t the main story, which then kicked in as Trevor Howard moved to the center and after that was absorbing to the end, and emotionally affecting too.
    Moreover, Armendariz’ character became more complex in the later reels.

    It was a real pleasure to see young Elsa Martinelli, not just so attractive but a very good actress, in the wake of her recent death. I’ve never been able to see her in a lot of movies–some of those Italian ones are obscure to me though I guess there must be something good in there. Of course, there’s always HATARI! to back to another time.

    SPOILERS HERE–

    I will make one other observation about MANUELA. This is about that alternate ending–knowing it was more downbeat I waited a week and then watched it. It didn’t really change anything for me, except to remind me that endings (and much else in movies) may be very arbitrary, just as life itself might often be, because human beings are complex and don’t always act in predictable ways. There was logic in either ending here. In the first ending, Howard’s character thinks better of a wrong decision and finally privileges his emotional life and deeper needs and returns to Martinelli (a relief, of course, not just for him but because we don’t want to her to fall back into the hellish life represented by the sleazy guy moving in on her). So that believable.
    On the other hand, the alternate ending was also believable because the romance with Martinelli had caused him to be inattentive to his command and played a role in the disaster that befalls his ship–he did seem the kind of man who might want to feel he should pay for something like this and giving up what he wants would be a way to do it. Narratives make us reflect on how we feel about situations like this–and whether one likes one ending or another, in a made up story, they can do what they want with it.

    ***
    Thanks for recommending this, Colin. Was glad to take a flyer on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Firstly, I’m pleased you got to see the movie and that you got something from it – it’s always something of a worry when you recommend a more obscure title and people do take a flyer on it.

      The character played by Armendariz does go through quite a transformation, and the man we see at the end is indeed a good deal more complex than the impression gained in that first reel. It’s interesting to observe this change but you make a valid point too about the beginning affecting the balance of the story overall.

      And the endings. I prefer the default ending offered as it left me with a better feeling about the characters we come to know over the course of the narrative. However, I agree that the alternative also works and makes sense in relation to what came before. If art can be said to reflect life then it’s surely an example of that old notion of always being presented with two paths, each one progressing naturally from earlier experiences and thus each one remains open to us. Howard could have taken either path here, but I’m happy with the one the filmmakers appear to have gone with in the end.

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