Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A High Wind in Jamaica

One more movie to recommend over on the Fox Movie Channel is A High Wind in Jamaica, which is coming up tomorrow at 11:00 AM.

The movie opens up at a small outpost on the island of Jamaica sometime in the first half of the 19th century, at a time when all of the Caribbean islands were still colonies, with Jamaica of course being a British colony. A hurricane blows through what is clearly a fairly undeveloped settlement, although there are a bunch of families in the settlement. The bad experience of the hurricane convinces quite a few of the mothers that Something Must Be Done. Jamaica is no place for a kid to have a "proper" upbringing. So, the decision is made to send the kids back to Mother England to go to good boarding schools. Of course, this entails a long sea voyage more or less unaccompanied, unless you count one Spanish-speaking governess and the ship's crew as accompaniment. This is also the tail end of the era of high seas piracy, at least in the Atlantic Ocean. And so, sure enough, the ship gets raided, by a pirate ship captained by Chavez (Anthony Quinn) and with Zac (James Cobrun) as first mate.

But, a funny thing happens. In all the confusion of the hijacking, the kids make their way over to the pirate ship. But, they hide down below to stay stafe away from all the action, and they don't realize that the two ships have parted until it's much too late to do anything about it, and obviously none of the pirate crew notices them either, or they would have sent the children back to their rightful ship. I said at the beginning of the paragraph that "a funny thing happens", although that doesn't mean the movie is a comedy. Indeed, it's serious business. The pirates understandably don't want the children around; it's more mouths to feed and people to get in the way, even if the kids wanted to be perfectly behaved. The kids, for their part, still want to be children. They don't necessarily want to be mean to the pirates, but they're still kids and have a way of getting into trouble without understanding why. What's a crew to do?

The crew would probably be happy to do anything it takes to get rid of the children, but Captain Chavez has a conscience. And again, to be fair, none of what happened is really the kids' fault. Chavez decides that he's going to leave the children with some responsible adults in Mexican Tampico to either raise the kids or send them back to their parents in Jamaica: it's not as if the pirates can go to Jamaica themselves, of course. The only thing is, the "responsible" women Chavez knows are prostitutes, led by brothel owner Rosa (Lila Kedrova). In an incident at the brothel, one of the boys falls from a balcony and dies, which forces the pirates to take the children back to sea....

Despite the presence of a bunch of children, A High Wind in Jamaica is, for the most part, not really a movie for younger children. The violence feels grittier than in, say, the Errol Flynn swashbuckler, and there's none of the sugar-coating you might have seen had the movie been made by Disney. That's actually a good thing, however, as it's a story that should be treated seriously. Quinn, unsurprisingly, gives a good performance, and the kids are good too, never being cloying and irritating. Unfortunately, the last time FMC showed the movie, there was a technical glitch that led to the first 15 minutes or so of the film constantly switching back and forth between the letterboxed print and a pan-and-scan, something that was almost irritating enough to make me want to switch the TV off. That stopped, however, with the broadcast sticking with the letterbox print. At any rate, A High Wind in Jamaica has received a DVD release, although I think it's out of print.

No comments: