Review for Manina, the Lighthouse-Keeper's Daughter
‘Manina’ (AKA The Lightkeeper’s Daughter in the UK and ‘The Girl in the Bikini’ in the USA) was released in 1952 and was, to all intents and purposes, a pretty bulk standard, early example of a teen film. A kind of high-tension, teen drama with very occasional, humorous light touches. What makes it stand out (particulary in the memories of any adolescents of the late 50’s) is Brigitte Bardot’s screen debut – a natural beauty, and all perfectly contained in a skimpy bikini too.
The story, if truth be told, is a bit so-so – like one of the more medicore Elvis films from the early 60s. A Parisian law student, and something of an Adonis, Gérard Morere, (Jean-François Calvé) is the only student half-awake during a lecture about a Phoenician ship which sunk, full of ancient treasures, off the coast of Corsica. Having been there himself just a few years before, and having unearthed a broken vase, he is convinced he knows where the treasure is.
With funds supplied by fellow students and a local restaurateur, all eager to share in the spoils, he sets off, via Tangier (where he hopes to pick up a suitable boat and crew) to seek out the treasure.
In Morocco, he meets a local cigarette smuggler called Eric (Howard Vernon) who agrees to provide transportation in exchange for some of the loot.
When they arrive at the Lavezzi islands, and start their dive, Gerard emerges from the sea to find Manina, the daughter of a local light-house keeper, swimming above him (we’re now 40 minutes in to the film and this is the first, but memorable glimpse of 18 year old Bardot). Having met and befriended her five years earlier, when she was still a child, he cannot believe how much she has changed. She is now a beautiful young woman.
Needless to say, he’s not the only one to find the bikini clad young Bardot attractive; the criminal crew of his boat do to and their intentions are not necessarily honourable. The same is true of their intentions about the treasure and it comes down to Manina’s swimming abilities to save Gerard when his life is endangered; their romance and future together now secured.
The film was one of Bardot’s first starring roles and was shot in 1952 around Nice and Cannes for the most part. It was directed by Willy Rozier, an actor and jobbing director who had made dozens of films since the 1930s. It was initially released in France, only to get released into the US and the UK in 1958/59 respectively after the international success of ‘And God Created Woman’. At the time of its release, there was a great deal of scandal about the scanty bikini worn by Bardot. Nothing so immodest had ever been shown in mainstream cinema before, and it is this, perhaps more than anything else, which has earned the film its reputation. Of course, it all looks quite tame today, though the idea of old men lusting after such young girls (and Bardot does look almost girlish here) doesn’t sit well today. The way Manina shrugs off an aggressive advance of the middle-aged skipper as she is sleeping is fairly shocking – laughing it off as if an inevitable part of life.
This edition of the film was restored by the CNC and gets a reasonable transfer, despite some irretrievable damage to the print used on occasion – though this is marginal. Where the film gets let down, quite badly on occasion, is with the soundtrack. Some may be as a result of low budget film-making (interior wide scenes sounding a bit thin, inconsistencies in background noise between close up cuts and so on). But some must be damage. From 27 minutes in we get a full four minutes of static like interference, and there are a few crackles and pops throughout.
I was pleased to see that Eureka added a whole extra feature as an extra here - Willy Rozier's 56 Rue Pigalle, a pot-boiler from the late 40's. Unfortunately, it looks awful, like a VHS transfer or perhaps from a surviving 16mm print – but positively ‘public domain’ like. I gave up on it after 10 minutes or so.
Also included is a five- minute clip showing an infamous dual between director Willy Rozier and critic François Chalais. Rozier succeeds in grazing his opponents arm. There are also some stills with some rare and beautiful shots of the young Bardot on set.
‘Manina, The Lighthouse-Keeper's Daughter’ is not a particularly good or notable film, other than Bardot’s bikini-clad presence. Of course, for many, that alone is well worth the cost. It’s also a film that, until now, has cost collectors a fair price to buy on DVD, so for them, or anyone who recalls seeing this in the cinema in the late 50s, this edition is good news.