Juno and the Paycock (1929)

Synopsis:

In 1920s Dublin, Ireland, a working class family learns that they have inherited a large sum of money. They begin spending cash only to find out that a law clerk made an error and there is really no money coming to them. This kitchen-sink drama is played against the background of the brutal Irish Civil War.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“With Labour, Mary, humanity is above everything.”

The history of cinema is filled with ineffectual adaptations of stage plays. Juno and the Paycock is one of the worst stage-to-screen adaptations that I’ve seen. Alfred Hitchcock himself later said, “(Juno and the Paycock) had no cinematic value.” I have to agree with Hitchcock — this is a photographed stage play, and a dated play to boot.

Juno and the Paycock is based upon famous Irish dramatist Sean O’Casey’s play of the same name. It was adapted by Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville. I’m not sure what exactly attracted Hitchcock to the material. My best guess is that the director liked how O’Casey’s story explores the idea of large issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s films.

The main problem with the movie is that Hitchcock was way too deferential to author O’Casey, whom he greatly admired. For whatever reason, Hitchcock felt compelled to keep the material intact and the film suffers because of it. The director makes no attempts to open up the play. Hitchcock was afraid to alter the material and only added a prologue after O’Casey gave him permission to do so.

That being said, there are a few things here to pique the interest of Hitchcock aficionados. This is the first time that Hitchcock experimented with long, uninterrupted takes. Hitchcock’s obsession with this technique can be seen throughout his whole career, more notable in movies like Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949).

I tend to like long takes in movies. The technique, however, doesn’t work here at all. It only serves to emphasize the uncinematic quality of the piece. The result is a long-winded, talky movie that feels stagey and static. The visual fluidity of Hitchcock’s previous movies — The Lodger, Blackmail, etc. — is nowhere to be found here.

Anyhow, the material screams for someone like Irish-American John Ford. In fact, the play has a lot in common with Ford’s 1935 classic The Informer. Ford also directed a Sean O’Casey biopic titled Young Cassidy (1965).

The overstated acting in the film doesn’t help. Sara Allgood (How Green Was My Valley) recreates her legendary stage performance as the long-suffering mother, Juno, but Hitchcock does little to tone down her performance. The same can be said of the rest of the actors. Hitchcock failed to realize that the proximity of the camera demands changes in acting style. Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way), in his film debut, comes off best as “The Orator.” With Edward Chapman (Madeleine) as Captain “The Paycock” Boyle.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Juno and the Paycock (aka The Shame of Mary Boyle) is really a movie for the curious. Hitchcock is at his laziest. The film was, ironically, a financial and critical success. It was even hailed as a masterpiece by some contemporary reviews. No one was more embarrassed than Hitchcock, who knew he had phoned it in — he even deleted his “cameo” during post-production. B&W, 85 minutes, Not Rated.

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