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

  • The first all-talking film from the young director is a dark and funny drama
  • Based on a perennially popular stage play depicting working class strife in 1920s Ireland
  • Featuring many regular Hitch players and some of the Master’s sharp touches
  • Currently, legit home video options are few but they’re all listed here

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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

UK pressbook

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 nice 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 consistently enjoyable, engaging experience. If anything, it’s a perfect example of a ‘lesser’ Hitchcock: from anyone else of the period, this 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 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 currently apparent. If you want to see Juno for yourself, there are just a few licensed DVDs:

As there are no good quality prints of Juno in circulation, the zoomed-in, dupey and muffled transfers on these discs are as good as it gets for now. The visuals are almost on a par with poor old Easy Virtue but unlike that film, Juno is at least complete. Truth be told, unlike all of Hitch’s other films, the official DVDs don’t actually offer much of an upgrade over the many circulating bootlegs, especially ones like the Spanish Suevia Films release. Do ensure you avoid the US Reel Vault effort though: it features very similar original poster artwork to the legit UK disc, yet has one of the worst transfers of the lot.

Juno is easily in the worst state of any of Hitch’s British talkies, and is particularly 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 on the acting and dialogue. With these transfers, heads are constantly cropped off, leaving disembodied voices floating in the crackly air. And 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. The spirit of the story always comes across clearly enough though. It certainly helps to read the play first, as the dialogue is much more intelligible after seeing much of 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 though the BFI holds various early film materials on Juno, including the original nitrate negative, 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.

Without a doubt, the film’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.

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), and Layons Multimedia in Spain; DNA in Italy, and others. There’s even an anonymous Spanish BD, ripped straight from DVD. Eejits.

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

UK pressbook rear

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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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