Skip to main content

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock
(1930)

(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Well, aside from a scene at the pub, in order to get out of the Boyle household. Hitch professed to being “ashamed” of the picture, even though it “got very good notices”. His distaste was on the basis that “it had nothing to do with cinema… I had the feeling I was dishonest, that I had stolen something”. The director was of the view that, while an excellent play, “I could see no way of narrating it in cinematic form”. His conversation with Truffaut extended to a discussion of the folly of adapting Crime and Punishment and a view more movie makers should probably be given pause by (“There has been a lot of talk about the way in which Hollywood directors distort literary masterpieces. I’ll have no part of that!”). Although, by implication, he’s suggesting Du Maurier wasn’t in a class where he had to pay due diligence to the text.

More than Hitch’s involvement in a production that has little of his stamp on it, the aspect of Juno and the Paycock that struck me most was the presence of Edward “Mr Grimsdsale!” Chapman in the lead role of Captain Boyle, also his feature debut. More especially, that I completely failed to recognise him; he’s playing much older, and gruffer here (he’s five years younger than John “Frazer” Laurie, playing his son!), and it’s quite the impressive transformation. Either that, or Mr Grimsdale is (Chapman would appear in two subsequent Hitchcock pictures). Boyle’s indolent waster is the “Paycock” of the title (a play on peacock bestowed upon him by wife Juno, played by Sarah Allgood, of Blackmail and later Oscar nominated for How Green Was My Valley).

Boyle’s partial to the pub, with pal Joxer Daly (Sidney Morgan), and even keener on getting free drinks from Maisie (Maire O’Neill). He’s fond of bemoaning “Better for me to be dead” while Juno observes “It’s a miracle. Whenever he senses a job in front of him, his legs begin to fail”. There’s much comedy of this type during the first half, with only the unease of Laurie’s Johnny to temper the mood; indeed, the announcement that the Captain is set for an inheritance goes to further underline the peacock element, as he (and Juno) begins putting on airs and graces, along with down payments on various items (a suit, a gramophone).

The seeds for ruin are all there at the outset, though. Johnny has informed on a fellow IRA member to the Irish Free State police, who then killed him, and the IRA want Johnny for questioning. Meanwhile, Daughter Mary (Kathleen O’Regan) is being courted by Charles Bentham (John Longden, who would continue to work with Hitchcock for the rest of the decade as well as for the Archers). Bentham made up the will, but his error means the Captain’s inheritance is lost. He also made Mary pregnant and subsequently absconds; the picture finishes with Johnny machine gunned by the IRA, Mary faced with the prospect of going away to have the child, and Juno grieving aloud to the Virgin Mary and God at her lot. The Captain, of course, is down the pub.

There’s some wry, very Oirish humour at play in Juno and the Paycock, such as the Captain’s joyous mourning for his deceased relative (“I’ll never doubt the goodness of God again”). Chapman is very amusing at playing his ignorance and self-righteousness (pretending to know what a theosophist is when Bentham pronounces himself one), but also the occasional insight (how Chaplin has taken on the status of one of the saints). The surrounding performances are all notable (Allgood reprises her stage role). I can’t say I picked up on the Jewish stereotyping of Fred Schwartz’s tailor, possibly because there were so many big performances in there.

Juno and the Paycock is engaging, but it isn’t hugely satisfying overall. Perhaps its tonal segues work better on the stage, but also, I don’t think the overt politics here were ever its director’s thing; he’s much more at home with the marital strife.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see America coming out in droves to see you puke.

The Hard Way (1991) (SPOILERS) It would probably be fair to suggest that Michael J Fox’s comic talents never quite earned the respect they deserved. Sure, he was the lead in two incredibly popular TV shows, but aside from one phenomenally successful movie franchise, he never quite made himself a home on the big screen. Part of that might have been down to attempts in the late ’80s to carve himself out a niche in more serious roles – Light of Day , Bright Lights, Big City , Casualties of War – roles none of his fanbase had any interest in seeing him essaying. Which makes the part of Nick Lang, in which Fox is at his comic best, rather perfect. After all, as his character, movie star Nick Lang, opines, after smashing in his TV with his People’s Choice Award – the kind of award reserved for those who fail to garner serious critical adoration – “ I’m the only one who wants me to grow up! ”

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.