Juno and the Paycock (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1930):

The camera cranes up a lightpost from Barry Fitzgerald orating on the Troubles, though, by his own admission, Alfred Hitchcock's record of the Sean O'Casey play has "nothing to do with cinema." Acolytes have taken his word for it (Andrew Sarris: "The only Hitchcock movie that one can say that there is absolutely nothing of Hitchcock in it"), the film itself tells another story. The struggle of the Boyle clan, with Juno (Sara Allgood), Jack "the Paycock" (Edward Chapman), stage business, songs, and tragedy transplanted from the Dublin Abbey Theatre to the screen via Alma Reville's precise adaptation. Static medium shots keep the actors in full view, yet the film is as much of a visual experiment as Blackmail or Number Seventeen: Hitchcock delves into the stasis with sharp cuts, the slightest angle change, insert, and shift in focus is an event. An innate sense of film shapes a whisky bottle into a Jungian object-transaction by simply panning to it from a character, a slow dolly isolates John Laurie, the jumpy son with severed arm and buried IRA ties, from the ensemble and from the political upheaval erupting outside the frame. A reverse track out of a gramophone punctuates the announcement of the inheritance, and, just to exorcise his fears of "pictures of people talking," the filmmaker renders the prattle puckish, with Sidney Morgan and Fred Schwartz alternating speaking and hearing (lips and ears, literally) in a Daliesque close-up. "Nothing to do with cinema"? Domestic pettiness versus cultural turmoil ("hearts o' stone," "hearts o' flesh"), a Madonna figurine and the rattle of an offscreen machine-gun, Allgood's gaze of pensive weariness at the war brought into her living room -- nothing but cinema, and a building block for Murder!, Rope, Dial M for Murder... With Maire O'Neill, Dave Morris, and Kathleen O'Regan. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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