- When the luck of the Irish ran out: the outlook is grey in the Emerald Isle
- The first all-talking film from the young director is a funny but dark drama
- Based on a perennially popular stage play depicting 1920s Irish working class strife
- Featuring many regular Hitch players and examples of the Master’s sharp touches
- A hugely underrated film, largely because it’s very difficult to see in good quality
- Most commenters haven’t given it a fair shake, only seeing it via atrocious bootlegs
- Currently, legitimate home video options are few but they’re all detailed here
Note: this is one of 100-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.
- Home video releases
- The Informer (1929)
- The Informer (1935)
- Uptight (1968)
- Related articles
One of Hitch’s least-known titles, this tale of poor working class folk is set in Dublin during the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). Released in the US as The Shame of Mary Boyle, it’s based on the still-popular, eponymous 1924 play by Seán O’Casey, the second of his “Dublin Trilogy”. O’Casey and Hitch discussed collaborating on another film based on an original screenplay titled The Park, but they reportedly fell out and it all came to naught. O’Casey’s idea was eventually published as the controversial play Within the Gates (1934) which proved unsuccessful domestically, but found greater favour in the States. Hitch, meanwhile, later based the drunk doomsayer in The Birds (“It’s the end of the world!”) on the Irish playwright. Make of that what you will.
Sara Allgood originated the part of Juno on stage and reprised her role in the film, following another motherly stint in Hitch’s Blackmail the previous year. She continued to play the suffering matriarch in several major productions for at least another decade, including a 1940 Broadway run. The titular, strutting “Paycock” was played by stage actor Edward Chapman in his first film role. In fact, three of Chapman’s first four films were for Hitch: he went on to also feature in Murder! and The Skin Game. His third, Caste (1930) is preserved in the BFI Archive but sadly unavailable. Chapman had a prodigious career on film and TV but is best remembered as the long-suffering “Mr. Grimsdale!”, the butt of comedian Norman Wisdom’s many hapless misadventures.
In addition to regular stage revivals, commencing with Hitch’s take there have been at least 11 big and small screen adaptations of Juno. These include productions from places as far-flung as America, Austria, Canada, Norway, Spain, and one apiece from Cold War-era East and West Germany. The whereabouts of the first remake, for BBC TV in 1938, is unknown but it would make for a fascinating comparison, especially as Allgood’s real life younger sister Maire O’Neill, who made her onscreen début in Hitch’s version as Juno’s neighbour Maisie Madigan, this time played Juno herself. But not for the first time: she also took the part for several BBC radio adaptations from 1937-1951.
Juno comes with several caveats, not least of which is that you mustn’t go in expecting a hidden Hitch masterpiece. Though there are some deft directorial touches here and there, overall there isn’t an awful lot for him to play with, and it’s never much in danger of breaking free of its stage-bound origins. Most of it is set in a single room, but this is a long way from the much bigger-budgeted gimmickry of a similar premise in Dial M for Murder.
But in other respects, this is a potential gem waiting to be discovered anew. Though Juno is frequently adjudged as not adding up to much more than a very competently made early talkie, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging experience. If anything, it’s a perfect example of a ‘lesser’ Hitchcock that from anyone else of the period would be pretty much universally considered upper tier. But Hitch’s works come saddled with a grossly unfair weight of expectation that few, if any, filmmaker could possibly live up to. The greatest obstacle Juno currently faces is in the quite poor condition of most current bootleg copies, which is how most people come to it. In all, largely due to its current physical state, it’s perhaps more a film for fans of very early talkies or the play itself, rather than followers of Hitch per se.
Note the above review’s final paragraph:
“On the whole, this is beautifully photographed by J.C. Cox, who is one of Britain’s best cameramen and seems to get fresh inspiration when he is working under Mr Hitchcock.
Beautifully recorded talking gives one an illusion of reality so that you can shut your eyes to listen and imagine that the players are there in the flesh.”
That mouthwatering technical quality is sadly not currently apparent anywhere but on a single DVD. But it could be: the BFI Archive holds a cache of film materials on this title going right back to the original negative, which is 8,510 feet (94:33 minutes) long.
Home video releases
If you want to see Juno for yourself, there are just three official DVDs:
- UK: Film First DVD (2010)
- Italy: Eagle 2on1 DVD w/The Ring, also in 8-DVD/15-film AH Portrait (2005)
- France: Journaux.fr DVD/magazine (2002, 2005)
Film First’s UK DVD is by far and away your best bet, as it features a very clear, BFI-sourced print that has had some A/V clean-up and is streets ahead of anything else in circulation. There’s a caveat though: the image has been mastered with a slight horizontal squash, though this can easily be corrected if playing back via a computer drive with VLC or similar. It’s region 0, runs for 91:00 with 4% PAL speed-up and there are no subtitles or extras. The other problem with this release is that it was only on sale for a relatively limited time before being deleted and is generally quite expensive when it does come up for sale secondhand. If you see a copy going cheap, grab it!
July 2021 update: the Film First Juno DVD producers have told me they’re flogging off their remaining unsold stock on eBay. They only have a limited quantity of brand new, sealed discs and once they’re gone, that’s it!
It’s the opposite of the situation with Waltzes from Vienna’s DVDs: this time, of the legit releases actually available, the French and Italian Juno discs have a zoomed-in, dupey and muffled transfer. It looks and sounds for all the world as if it was filmed directly off a projection screen with an external mike to pick up the audio; I’ve seen far better kinescopes. In fact, it’s almost on a par with poor old Easy Virtue but unlike that film, Juno is at least complete. A further demerit for the French and Italian discs is both use an unconverted NTSC source. Truth be told, it doesn’t actually offer any upgrade over most of the bootlegs and is identical to the transfer common to several such releases. That originated on DVD with Whirlwind Media’s boot (2000) and, as is standard practise, has been much copied itself ever since. Much more rarely though, on this occasion I looks like Studiocanal, the copyright owners who supplied said transfer, have slyly copied it too! It even has the exact same running time of 94:21. The French and Italian DVDs are, to the best of my knowledge, a complete anomaly in the Hitch home video canon and their detail is even a hair’s breadth behind the uniquely-sourced, green-tinged Spanish Suevia Films boot (NTSC, 94:36). But the latter point is moot: all DVDs bar the UK are pretty atrocious and quite a chore to sit through.
So do avoid all bootlegs, but if shopping for the Film First UK DVD, especially ensure you don’t mistakenly pick up the ubiquitous US effort from Reel Vault. It features very similar original pressbook artwork to the legit UK disc yet has the usual shoddy transfer. There’s also a Korean boot with the pressbook art and a few other US discs displaying it inside a border; just ensure you get a DVD with the art and BBFC logo. Note there is another French Universal 2on1 DVD of Waltzes from Vienna whose sleeve claims it contains Juno as a bonus, but it actually has Downhill. Oops.
Of all Hitch’s British talkies, Juno is the hardest to see in good condition and its reputation is badly harmed by this. It may not be his most dynamic film in terms of action, but there’s a great story here that skilfully veers back and forth from slapstick humour to dark tragedy. But that narrative relies heavily on the acting and dialogue, which are all too often compromised. It’s unfortunately inevitable that most people will only get to see it via the bootleg transfers but with them, heads are constantly cut off, leaving disembodied voices floating in the crackly air. And as speech is all articulated in thick Irish brogue; with no subtitles and the already muffled soundtrack suffering numerous drop-outs, it’s often impossible to follow exactly what’s being said. Again, Film First’s DVD is a huge improvement in this regard. But even with the boot transfers, the spirit of the story always comes across clearly enough. It certainly helps to read (or see!) the play first, as the dialogue is much more intelligible after seeing it in print.
As we’ve already seen, even the Hitchcock 9, far better-known works, have struggled to acquire home video release since their costly, high profile restoration. Even the most recent round of Studiocanal-owned Hitchcock film re-releases, from Kino Lorber in the US, have notably omitted Juno yet again, indicating the lack of a decent HD master. Despite the BFI’s fine Juno holdings, the chances of a high quality release of this most obscure of Hitch’s films is very slim as Studiocanal have literally never done anything with it; Film First’s DVD was an independent enterprise. Likewise, funding for a HD scan and clean-up or even full restoration would have to come from a source that had little expectation of seeing an immediate return on its investment. But with such a rich, fascinating background to the historical milieu, play and film itself, there is great potential for a pristine quality release with much added contextual material.
In summary, Juno is no missing masterpiece, to be sure, but in its own right it’s a very well executed early talkie that wouldn’t come in for such a consistent drubbing were it by anyone other than Hitch. But then, if that was the case it would be even less often seen, if at all, so catch-22. Nonetheless, as with other oft-derided Hitchcocks like Jamaica Inn, despite its shortcomings his mark is still unmistakably all over Juno and every serious fan should see it at least once in optimum condition.
The Informer (1929)
Without a doubt, Juno’s Irish setting and its window into a very troubled time in that country’s history could be capitalised upon in future. After all, the BFI did a fantastic job of restoring both the silent and sound versions of The Informer, based on the 1925 novel of the same name by Liam O’Flaherty. It’s a superb, similarly-themed film, like Juno also shot at Elstree Studios by British International Pictures. The BFI then put together an excellent programme of showcase events and screenings, ultimately resulting in a superlative Blu-ray/DVD release. Among The Informer’s extras are eight evocative Topical Budget newsreels of the period; these and the silent version are beautifully scored by a group of mostly Celtic musicians led by composer Garth Knox. Unlike Juno, there are no technical caveats with this film: both of its versions move at a cracking pace, and have great sound and visuals. In addition to those, the BFI discs include a featurette on the new score (10min), the eight newsreels, a restoration demo (5min) and an illustrated 36-page booklet. Sadly, due to licensing reasons the US Kino discs lose all extras bar the demo. In lieu of a special edition release of Juno, the BFI’s Informer package, with its wealth of contextual material, makes a fine companion piece to the Film First DVD.
The Informer (1935)
Sticking with The Informer, of course John Ford’s quadruple Oscar winning 1935 US remake also comes very highly recommended and can be had on various official DVDs, and streaming in the US:
- US: Warner DVD-R reissue (2016, region-free), original R1 disc in 5-DVD John Ford Film Collection (2006)
- UK: Universal DVD (2008)
The 2002 French “Edition Collector” DVD includes copious English-language extras and a 16-page booklet, but both French discs have slightly inferior NTSC-PAL transfers. Beware the bootlegs: this time they’re from Italy (DNA), Spain (Manga Films/reissue, LaCasaDelCineParaTodos, Layons) and others. There’s even an anonymous Spanish BD-R, likely from über-pirates Resen, ripped straight from DVD. Feckin’ eejits.
Renowned screenwriter-producer-actor Jules Dassin’s updated, retitled remake has an all-black cast and is set against the tumultuous backdrop of the urban civil rights movement. It also spawned a hit soundtrack album by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. As timely in its own way as the previous incarnations of O’Flaherty’s story, so far Uptight has only seen region-locked physical US releases:
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Setting the Scene
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous British Films
- Free the Hitchcock 9! Releasing the BFI-Restored Silents on Home Video
- Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off
- Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
- Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
- Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side or the Wrong Man?
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous Releases
- Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs
- Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 2: The Bad, the Ugly and the Good
For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.