Juno and the Paycock (1930)
written by Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, based on a play by Sean O'Casey
Hitchcock's opinion of Champagne is still true, though this film is nearly as bad as that earlier effort. He seems to be repeating past mistakes here. The successful, well-made crime picture The Lodger was followed-up by a depressing adaption of a play. So too this film follows Blackmail. It's taking a while before Hitchcock -- or maybe his producers -- figure out that he's better with crime films than he is with melodrama.
Unlike Champagne, at least this one has a plot. Juno is a long-suffering wife and mother married to a lazy, jobless man ("the paycock", which I assume is a play on the Irish pronunciation of "peacock," as this doesn't seem to be a real word). Their daughter's lawyer boyfriend informs them that they're going to inherit £2000 and the family begins gleefully spending the money before they've got it. Then, the boyfriend skips town leaving the daughter pregnant, the family finds out they're not inheriting much money at all, creditors take every stick of furniture from their apartment and the son is murdered. The film ends with the mother wailing for divine help.
One problem I had with the movie is that it follows the least interesting characters the closest. Juno and "the paycock" are now cliches; nearly every sitcom on TV is comprised of a buffoon husband and a wise, exasperated wife. Much more interesting were the lawyer boyfriend and the angry, one-armed son. At one point, the boyfriend announces that he's a theosophist, shocking the Catholic family of his girlfriend. That was the first and only revelation in the film I found interesting. I wanted to know more about this character. How does an Irishman in a deeply religious society come to these esoteric beliefs? Tell me more! Unfortunately, it's never mentioned again and the boyfriend soon disappears completely from the film. I'm guessing this was merely intended to be an early warning sign that he wasn't going to be an upstanding citizen, given that both the play and film were written by Catholics. Might just as well have put a T-shirt on the guy reading "heretic."
The son was another potentially interesting character mostly ignored throughout the film. He'd lost an arm in the Irish Civil War fighting on the side of the Republicans. He clearly had some psychological damage from the war's traumas and seem to be either snapping at people or hugging his mother like an infant. Unfortunately, he seems to be only a device to add more grief into Juno's life through his murder.
From a cinematic perspective, it just doesn't feel like Hitchcock put too much effort into this one. For the most part, it's filmed as though it's still being performed on stage. There are a lot of static shots and a lot of interiors. There are no dissolves, shots of reflections, people walking on see-through floors or any other interesting bits of photography. Overall, it's a quite dull-looking movie.
Hopefully, this film was just Hitch shaking out the kinks in this newfangled talkie era. (4/10)
Watched the region 1 DVD Released by Whirlwind Media in 2000. The print is in bad shape and badly framed (often, half of people's heads will be cut off). There's no good version of this on DVD, so that's the best we've got. It does come with a vintage Betty Boop short, which is fun.
20 November 2008
Juno and the Paycock (1930)