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

  • 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.

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

UK pressbook; this artwork adorns the sole official UK DVD and at least two bootlegs, from the US and Korea. Only the UK has a yellow BBFC triangle.


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”. 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.

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 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 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.

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 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:

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’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!

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 boot 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 preceding boot

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 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 strongly suspect 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.

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, 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; 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.

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 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.

Theatre production designs

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, 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 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.

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.

Juno and the Paycock (1930, dir, Alfred Hitchcock) bootleg DVD artwork

This artwork has appeared on several Waterfall Home Entertainment (WHE) boots, including their UK and Scandinavian DVDs, and the Amazon Prime boot.


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.

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)

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

US lobby card

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:

  • Italy: Mondo DVD (2004)
  • France: Éditions Montparnasse DVD (2002)
    • Éditions Montparnasse DVD (2005)

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 Multimedia) and others. There’s even an anonymous Spanish BD-R, likely from über-pirates Resen, ripped straight from DVD. Feckin’ eejits.


Uptight (1968)

Uptight (dir. Jules Dassin, 1968) US poster

US poster

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:


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.

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