I never thought I’d be able to say that I found an Alfred Hitchcock film completely without value, but life is full of surprises!
Adaptation By: Alfred Hitchcock
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Movies can be very stagey and still be great representations of the medium of film. Doubt and A Streetcar Named Desire are great examples of how a film can be essentially a filmed stage play and still be a great film. In the case of those two films, and others, a key ingredient was that the original material of the stage play was of a high quality. The same can’t be said for Juno And The Paycock. The base story for this film from Alfred Hitchcock is as dull as dishwater and borderline racist in its depiction of the Irish people. When the story is boring, the characters are uninteresting, and the film carries an underlying message of racism, that’s just not a winning formula.
The staginess of Juno And The Paycock hurts the film even more than its racist underpinnings. The film has about three sets, and the fact that those sets are fake sets is all too obvious. The actors don’t help matters by treating the sets as if they were stage sets. Lines are shouted very loudly, and to a man (or woman) every actor plants themselves firmly in place and barely moves during any given scene. It’s as if no one informed the actors that in the world of film one can move about and the camera will follow. When the actors actually do mill about it comes across as forced an unnatural. I can imagine Sir Hitchcock standing to the side with a pitchfork threatening the actors to “move damnit!” In the climactic moments of Juno And The Paycock the film is at its most staginess and that makes moments that are intended to be emotionally powerful quite laughable. When Mrs. Boyle is bemoaning the loss of her boy I found myself sniggering because it was obvious Sara Allgood was playing to the back row of a crowded theater that did not exist.
If one were to strip away the staginess of Juno And The Paycock the left over product would be one where Ireland is full of nothing but drunkards, layabouts, turncoats, and loose women. Trust me, I am well aware that Ireland has had its share of problems throughout history. It’s for that reason that at first I was welcoming a look at the darker history of the Irish poor class. However, as the film introduced extremely flawed after extremely flawed character the emotional honesty the film was striving for morphed into an overt racism. By the time the film had stopped playing the message of the film was clear: The Irish are lazy ne’er-do-well’s who should in no way be left to their own devices.
Juno And The Paycock is the second talkie from Alfred Hitchcock, and boy is it ever a downgrade from his first effort with a talkie, Blackmail. This is a dull picture, and a racist picture. This film from Sir Hitchcock is a complete miss, as awfully stagy as it is loudly racist. Juno And The Paycock has been forgotten, and it’s probably best that it stay that way.