The Hitchcock Haul: Juno and the Paycock (1929) aka My Unsolicited Thoughts on Adaptation

imgresOk, you’re all going to hate me for this, but I didn’t finish the movie. Maybe it was the awful digital restoration that was bothering me, or the fact that it was a poor adaptation of a brilliant play, but I found myself instantly zoning out and scrolling through Twitter as soon as it started.

Juno and the Paycock is based on the award-winning 1924 play by the Irish play write Sean O’Casey. I do not over exaggerate when I say that this play is massively popular in Ireland and incredibly important. I’m certain that if I went to see this performed on stage I’d be riveted and enjoy it greatly. But that’s because I’d be in a theater state of mind. As a film, it just couldn’t hold my attention.

WARNING: SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC TANGENT BELOW

Adaptation is a very tricky thing. It requires a complete overhaul of the source material to properly convert it to the new medium. Juno and the Paycock was released when film was still relatively new. A lot of the times people thought they could just film a play as is and it would become “a film.” Unfortunately, the conventions of film and theater are different enough that it just can’t work that way. While I don’t think Hitchcock can claim ignorance of his craft as to why he approach Juno in this way, it certainly had the same outcome.

juno01

It really bothers me when people judge a film or TV show based on how it compares with its source material. If it’s “not as good as” its source material it’s instantly bad. That is not always true, unless the adaptation is what’s standing in the way. My go-to example is Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve never read more gripping or detailed books as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I worship them. And when I watched the Swedish adaptations that propelled Noomi Rapace to stardom I was painfully disappointed. The films were more like a greatest hits reel of the books. They were just three long montages of interesting scenes with zero connecting information. My boyfriend, who hadn’t read the books at the time of viewing, was constantly asking me to fill in the gaps for him. And this is a man who refuses to mix a book with its film or TV adaptation. If anyone mentions a comparison between the GoT TV series and A Song of Ice and Fire he becomes irrationally angry. He likes to absorb them as separate entities, which is smart.

When we were finished watching the Swedish version, I turned to him and said, “Don’t worry, when Hollywood remakes these it will be so much better.” This was before anything was announced about the David Fincher adaptation. In fact, nothing about an American remake was being discussed publicly at all. As far as we knew it wasn’t happening. But I knew it would be because of how rich and incredible the books were. You simply can’t pass on that kind of material. I also knew it would be better because of Hollywood’s distinct ability to rip apart a size 8 and sew it back together to fit a size 2 beautifully, even if it hurts. This is something many people hate, but in this case I knew it would serve the purpose of the story. And guess what, the David Fincher film was AMAZING! It took liberties with the book, but it was a much more enjoyable experience as a film. It stood alone.

Juno and Mary

Juno and Mary

Back to Juno and the Paycock. The film and play take place during the Irish Civil War. Captain Boyle (Edward Chapman) and his wife Juno (Sara Allgood) live in a small tenement in the slums of Dublin. Their adult daughter Mary (Kathleen O’Regan) is currently on strike, and their adult son Johnny (John Laurie) suffered severe injuring fighting the Black and Tans, rendering him nearly crippled. Johnny is in trouble with the IRA after turning in one of their own to the Irish State Police, and they are on to him. The Boyle family is not in the greatest of positions at the beginning of the film and play.

But a bit of a miracle occurs — a cousin of the Captain’s passes away and leaves them with a small fortune. The impoverished family delights at this and borrows liberally against it, planning to pay everything off once the money is received. Soon after, Mary becomes engaged to Charlie Bentham (John Longden), the charming man who drafted the will and delivered the good news. What a surprise when it all goes to shit.

Juno-and-the-Paycock-29533_3

Bentham made a mistake when drafting the will, and the family never sees any of the money promised them. The Captain hides this information from the family until creditors and repo men show up, and then all of their possessions are taken, and the Boyle family is plummeted into even more paralyzing debt.

BUT IT GETS WORSE! Mary gets knocked up by Charles out of wedlock. Charles disappears, leaving her pregnant, alone, and shunned by everyone. Additionally, the IRA finally get their hands on Johnny and shoot him full of holes (as they say…right?). And that is apparently how it ends!

Without actually watching the entire film, it looks like the themes are the oh-so-cheery loss of faith and self that both Irish and Southern Gothic literature love so much. Work done by Irish writers from the Great Famine to the Irish Civil War contains zero amount of hope. They leave you wondering, ‘How did these people go on?’ They were beat down to nothing, then spit on by racists in America and Britain, and survived with not so much as a glimmer of hope for their future. It takes a very specific type of person to prevail, and I’m definitely proud to have some Irish in me.

Johnny Boyle

Johnny Boyle

I can tell that Juno is a compelling story that makes a strong point about the climate of Ireland at the time. I’d love to see a live production of this, but I just couldn’t watch it on the screen. Hitchcock was deliberately faithful to the play and kept the tampering to a minimum, which resulted in most of the action being verbal and happening in the two bedroom tenement. I can understand wanting to be true to something so powerful, but, just like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it didn’t translate quite the way you’d like it to.

Film is about action. Theater is about dialogue. That is a very general statement, but I stand by it. Plot and characters need to be driven forward, and due to the restrictions of theater your best option is through the spoken word — ‘That he said she said bull shit,’ as Limp Bizkit are inclined to say. In film you have the liberty to tell a story more visually, and audiences will expect that. I wanted more from Juno and the Paycock. I wanted to see things happen instead of being told about them happening. And with the god awful conversion and restoration driving me crazy, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. This doesn’t explain my love for Hitchcock’s Rope in the least bit, however, which takes place entirely in one small apartment.

I think I’ll pick up a copy of the play, but I’m not going to try to watch this again (unless I can find a better quality version). I’m obviously not going to rate it, as I didn’t even finish, but I would highly recommend that you get your hands on the play or go see it performed if possible.

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