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Captain Brannigan (John Bromfield) is a loser with a capital L He runs
a moderately successful turtle fishing business on Jamaica, but loses the
little money he ears at gambling, he is a moderately successful womanizer,
this way alienating the one woman (Barbara Nichols) who really loves him,
and he is on the constant run from his creditor (Vere Johns), who
threatens to impound his ship, the Manfish. That he hasn't long gone down
is only thanks to his first mate, Swede (Lon Chaney jr), who seems like a
half-wit most of the time and who takes way too much abuse from Brannigan,
but he also holds his business together for him, and he is also truly in
love with the Manfish - even though she's not even that good a boat.
though, Brannigan finds half a treasure map, and though he cannot make out
what it's saying, he knows it must lead to a large treasure. And he even
knows who has the other half: The Professor (Victor Jory), a guy who he
has recently been fighting with over a woman, Alita (Tessa Prendergast).
He approaches the Professor concerning a joint treasurehunt, but it
becomes quite clear that the two men will never get along from square one,
and Brannigan leaves no doubt that he would much rather kill the Professor
than to work with him, but the professor leaves nothing to chance, burns
the treasure map - and now the only way to get to the treasure is via the
Professor's brain. So it's a battle of brawns against brains, but much
more than that, it's a fight over who's the alpha male and will win the
trophy, Alita, who makes it very clear she will go with the gold.
quite a few hardships, Brannigan, the Professor and Swede actually find
the treasure on a dessert island, and now Brannigan wants to make good his
plan of killing the Professor - but amidst all the gold they have found,
there is also a second encoded treasure map, so it seems Brannigan will
need the professor a little longer.
The Manfish arrives back in Jamaica
to get some provisions, and Swede and Alita are soon off to sell part of
the treasure to have the necessary money to do so. In the meantime, the
Professor leaps upon the opportunity to kill Brannigan. But once the
deed's done, hiding the body in an operating port is a whole other issue.
It takes quite a while before he is able to tie Brannigan to a gastank and
sink him into the harbour unseen - and even then, gas bubbles from the
tank hit the surface every few seconds, as if it was a heartbeat. And
people show up all through the night to ask for Brannigan.
morning: Brannigan's creditor shows up with the police to legally impound
the Manfish, but Brannigan's of course not present, only the Professor,
who gets more erratic by the minute and tells everybody Brannigan has
bolted. Swede, who knows every nook and cranny of the Manfish, soon
notices a gas tank is missing, and he also sees the gas bubbles hitting
the water surface, heartbeat-like. He is quick to make the connection and
retrieves the body of his dead friend from the water in no time.
Professor is arrested on the spot, but Swede manages to pay off the
creditor with the money he made from selling part of the treasure ... and
to his surprise, the boat is suddenly, and legally, his.
The Professor has fastened it to a line and thrown it
overboard. Without knowing that, Swede just cuts the line when it slows
down the Manfish, handing a fortune in gold over to the sea never to be
Billy Wilder's lesser talented brothr W.Lee Wilder
spent his less successful filmmaking career mainly making low budget
movies, often of the sci-fi/horror variety, many of which have become
minor cult movies today, but usually for all the wrong reasons. Manfish
though is a pretty decent effort. Sure, it has only little to do with the
Edgar Allan Poe short stories it's supposed to be based on, and it was
clearly and visibly done on a low budget - but for a change, it does
feature a pretty good story, with surprisingly fleshed out characters and
a moral dilemma only rarely found in B movies of the era. And the lack of
a decent budget and rather crude filmmaking techniques of Mr Wilder
actually contribute to the rawness of the story for a change. And the
authentic Jamaica sets of course don't hurt one bit either. A surprisingly
good film, actually.