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

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Hello Johnny, how are you today?

Twin Peaks 3.10: Laura is the one.
(SPOILERS) I’ve a theory that all it takes to tip a solid episode of Twin Peaks (in any season) into a great one are three or four slices of sublime strangeness. The rest can hum along amiably, in contrast to that electricity the Log Lady has something to say about, but it’s those scenes that define the overall shape and energy. Laura is the one has a good three or four, and maybe the funniest sustained Lynchian visual gag so far.

That comes in the form of the Mitchum brothers, or to be more precise Robert Knepper’s Rodney. He’s aided and abetted by Candie (Amy Shiels), part airhead, part fruit bat, attempting to swat a fly while Rodney examines casino surveillance logs. And like most of the director’s comic gold, this goes on and on and on, and you absolutely know it will end with Rodney getting clobbered. I wasn’t expecting it to be with the TV remote, though.

I’m not certain Candie’s mental state, sustained though it is, is going to be about anyth…

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

That Freud stuff’s a bunch of hooey.

Spellbound (1945)
Spellbound is something of a stumbling follow-up to Rebecca, producer David O Selznick’s previous collaboration with Hitchcock. Selznick was a devotee of psychoanalysis, and the idea of basing a film on the subject was already in the mind of the director. To that end, the producer’s own therapist, May Romm, was brought in as a technical advisor (resulting in Hitchcock’s famous response when she pointed out an inaccuracy, “My dear, it’s only a movie”).

I’ve had enough of this 2012 Alamo bullshit.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
(SPOILERS) Not The Secret Private Military Contractors of Benghazi, as that might sound dubious in some way, and we wouldn’t anything to undermine their straight-shooting heroism. That, and interrogating the politics of the US presence in Libya, official and unofficial, and involvement in the downfall of Gaddafi (Adam Curtis provides some solid nuggets in his rather sprawling HyperNormalisation), is the furthest thing from Michael Bay’s mind. Indeed, it’s a shame 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi bears the burden of being a tale based on (murky and disputed) facts, as it’s Bay’s most proficient piece of filmmaking in some time.

So, you’re not going to find out what the CIA was actually up to in their Benghazi base (most likely, the dodgiest conclusion you can reach will be the right one). You’ll only be informed that a brave team of ex-military types were there to protect them, and stepped up to the plate, just as soon as they got …

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.