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  High Wind in Jamaica, A Pirate Movie
Year: 1965
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Stars: Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Dennis Price, Lila Kedrova, Nigel Davenport, Isabel Dean, Kenneth J. Warren, Ben Carruthers, Gert Fröbe, Brian Phelan, Vivienne Ventura, Deborah Baxter, Roberta Tovey, Martin Amis, Jeffrey Chandler, Karen Flack, Henry Beltran
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The mid-nineteenth century, and in Jamaica where the Thornton family are living as Mr Thornton (Nigel Davenport) works there, emigrants from England. But one day there is a hurricane on the island which devastates the surroundings, not to mention their home, and as they hide in the basement from the storm, the workers carry out a voodoo ceremony to ward off evil spirits. It is this as much as anything else which convinces Mrs Thornton (Isabel Dean) to send their five children back to England as she worries they will turn savage...

But turn savage they do, in spite of her best efforts, in this, the big screen adaptation of Richard Hughes semi-classic novel which once upon a time was a set text in British schools although it was supplanted in the common consciousness by The Lord of the Flies, which took many of Hughes' themes and created a genuine classic out of them. But the conclusions were the same and seated in a mistrust of children left to their own devices: the kids in this were not marooned, but they proved more troubling than the pirates who kidnapped them.

Yes, this was a pirate movie, but there was no hint of a Captain Jack Sparrow to be seen here, as the ne'erdowells depicted were a lot closer to reality, and in that represented the end of an era of piracy on the high seas that captured the imaginations for centuries after, leaving the likes of Blackbeard or Captain Blood populating seafaring blockbusters and would-be blockbusters on screen and on the page, never quite going out of fashion. Yet it was not the scourge of the sea which lay at the heart of the drama, it was the Thorntons, along with two other children who were along for the trip on a British ship that was boarded.

Almost by accident, the youngsters end up stuck on the pirate ship, and the most subversive aspect of this was they were delighted to be undertaking this adventure as it suited them down to the ground. The captain who takes them on this journey is Chavez (Anthony Quinn), who has a loyal first mate in Zac (James Coburn), and this duo become curious kind of parents even as they have their reservations but cannot think of a way to get rid of these charges without abandoning them to the elements or people worse than the buccaneers they have fallen in with. This results in an edgy atmosphere onboard, and you'd be right to predict none of it will end well for anybody.

Well, anybody except the children, who adapt to these surroundings with naive, but also callous, ease. Among the actors playing them was future author Martin Amis, in the role of John whose fate in the book is almost casually shocking, but the real star of the show was Deborah Baxter as Emily, the most significant of the minors, putting in a remarkable performance that spoke to great promise the actress unfortunately was not able to capitalise upon. It is Emily who commits the act which dooms the pirates, here placed as the climax of the story - in the book there was more time to ruminate over what she's done - save for the courtroom scenes which top this off. A High Wind in Jamaica, like its source, is an uneasy tale, and brought to the screen it had an airless and dreamlike quality which ironically rendered it all the more convincing, haunting, in its very strangeness. Music by Larry Adler.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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