Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Juno and the Paycock (1930)

  • The first all-talking film from the young director is a funny but dark drama
  • Based on 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
  • Currently, legitimate home video options are few but they’re all detailed here

Note: this is one of 50-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.

Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK pressbook

UK pressbook


Contents


Production

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“.

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, from 1938, is unknown but it would make for a fascinating comparison, especially as Maire O’Neill, who made her onscreen début in Hitch’s version, reprised her titular role. In fact, she originated the part on stage and played it in all major productions until at least 1940.

Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK pressbook rear

UK pressbook rear

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 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 (1954).

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, but from anyone else of the period would be pretty much universally considered upper tier. But Hitch’s films come saddled with a grossly unfair weight of expectation that few from any filmmaker could possibly live up to. The greatest obstacle the film currently faces is in the quite poor condition of most current copies. In all, largely due to its current physical state, Juno is perhaps more a film for fans of very early talkies or the play itself, rather than followers of Hitch per se.

Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Dundee Evening Telegraph review, 7 March 1930

Dundee Evening Telegraph, 7 March 1930

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 altogether currently apparent. 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, equalling 94:33.


Home video releases

If you want to see Juno for yourself, there are just three official DVDs:

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 stretch, though this can easily be corrected if playing back via a computer drive with VLC or similar. It 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!

Sara Allgood, Edward Chapman and Sidney Morgan in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Spanish Suevia Films bootleg DVD

Sara Allgood, Edward Chapman and Sidney Morgan; Spanish Suevia Films bootleg DVD

Sara Allgood, Edward Chapman and Sidney Morgan in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US Brentwood bootleg DVD

US 2003 Brentwood bootleg DVD, copied from US 2000 Whirlwind DVD, along with many others since

Sara Allgood, Edward Chapman and Sidney Morgan in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) French Universal DVD

French Universal DVD; transfer appears to be same copy as bootleg above

Sara Allgood, Edward Chapman and Sidney Morgan in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Film First DVD

UK Film First DVD; the only good quality transfer available, albeit slightly stretched

It’s the exact opposite of the situation with Waltzes from Vienna’s  DVDs: this time, of the two legit releases available, the French Juno disc has a zoomed-in, dupey and muffled transfer. In fact, it’s almost on par with poor old Easy Virtue but unlike that film, Juno is at least complete. A further demerit for the French PAL disc is that it uses 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. Said transfer originates with Whirlwind Media’s bootleg (2000). and, as is standard practise, has been much copied itself ever since. On this occasion though, I strongly speculate Universal France have slyly copied it themselves! It even has the exact same running time of 94:21. Their DVD is even – dare I say it – a complete anomaly in the Hitch home video canon in having detail a hair’s breadth behind the uniquely-sourced, green-tinged Spanish Suevia Films bootleg (NTSC, 94:36). But this is moot: all DVDs bar the UK are pretty atrocious and quite a chore to sit through.

Phyllis Konstam, John Longden and Sara Allgood in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) French Universal DVD

Phyllis Konstam, John Longden and Sara Allgood; French Universal DVD

Phyllis Konstam, John Longden and Sara Allgood in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Film First DVD

UK Film First DVD

So do avoid all bootlegs, but if shopping for the Film First UK DVD, particularly ensure you don’t mistakenly pick up the ubiquitous US Reel Vault effort. It features very similar original pressbook artwork to the legit UK disc, as seen above, yet has one of the worst transfers of the lot. Note there is a French Universal 2on1 DVD of Waltzes from Vienna whose sleeve claims it contains Juno as a bonus, but it actually has Downhill.

Maire O'Neill in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) French Universal DVD

Maire O’Neill, French Universal DVD

Maire O'Neill in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Film First DVD

UK Film First DVD

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 skillfully veers back and forth from slapstick humour to dark tragedy. But that narrative relies heavily on the acting and dialogue, 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 the play first, as the dialogue is much more intelligible after seeing it in print.

L-R: Edward Chapman, Sara Allgood, Sidney Morgan and Maire O'Neal in Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

L-R: Edward Chapman, Sara Allgood, Sidney Morgan and Maire O’Neal in a rendition of the irrepressibly catchyIf You’re Irish Come into the Parlour“.

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 have notably omitted Juno yet again, indicating the lack of a decent HD master. Despite the BFI’s fine Juno holdings, the chances of an imminent restoration or even decent transfer of this most obscure of Hitch’s films is very slim. Funding 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.


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. After all, the BFI did a fantastic job of restoring both the silent and sound versions of The Informer (1929), a superb, similarly-themed film, also shot like Juno at Elstree Studios by British International Pictures. The BFI then put together an excellent programme of showcase events and screenings, ultimately resulting in superlative Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among The Informer’s extras (UK BD/DVD only) are eight evocative, contemporary newsreels; 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 its versions move at a cracking pace, and have exquisite sound and visuals.

BFI National Archive holdings | Timeline of Historical Film Colors: tinted silent and sound nitrate prints

It’s time for one of the great British silent films to get its due: The Informer by Bryony Dixon


The Informer (1935)

Sticking with The Informer, of course John Ford’s multiple-Academy Award winning 1935 US remake also comes very highly recommended and can be had on various DVDs:

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 Manga Films (x 2), LaCasaDelCineParaTodos and Layons Multimedia in Spain; DNA in Italy, and others. There’s even an anonymous Spanish BD, ripped straight from DVD. Feckin’ eejits.

The Informer (dir. John Ford, 1935) US lobby card

US lobby card


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For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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