A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Written by Stanley Mann & Ronald Harwood & Denis Cannan
Based upon the novel by Richard Hughes
A High Wind in Jamaica has been released on DVD in order to capitalize on the popularity of sea-faring adventures such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Master and Commander. At the time of its release in 1965 this might have been an adequate adventure for children, but it does not stand the test of time. There’s not enough action and it moves too slow. It might be a fun treat for people who grew up with it or for fans of classic Hollywood, but no one from Generation X and onward could sit still through this.
A hurricane hits the Caribbean and the Thorton family takes cover. Young Emily, a precursor to Ripley from Alien, risks her life by running out to save the cat. Her father follows. Due to my biologically induced dislike for felines, I don’t like Emily immediately and would have left her outside to fend with the elements. The kid is obviously not too bright and evolution should be allowed to take its natural course. The Thortons have four or five other kids so they would get over it quick.
After the hurricane destroys their home, mother decides that the children aren’t safe and they need to be returned to England. On the way, a band of pirates, led by Captain Chavez (Anthony Quinn) and Zac, his second in command (James Coburn), loot the ship. Somehow they don’t notice the kids and a nanny boarding their own ship amid all the chaos.
They are the nicest, sweetest pirates ever. Everyone keeps their hands off the attractive nanny and they don’t hurt anyone when they rob them. Even though the kids are constantly in their way, the men work around them and take them to an island called Tampico.
During this sequence, the film changes from fun adventure and turns dark. The men and some children are at a bar/brothel and some of the children go upstairs. A cockfight is taking place below and as one boy leans out to see what is going on he falls one story to his death. Back on the boat, Emily gets hurt when some type of spike falls and punctures her. The Captain cares for her like a father.
When a Dutch ship is seen, the men want to raid its treasure, but Chavez wants to turn the children over so Emily can see a doctor. The crew mutinies and locks Chavez in his cabin with Emily. Chavez is let out and the Dutch captain is brought on board and placed in the cabin with Emily. The captain is bound and tries to get Emily to cut him free. Maybe because of the medicine she’s taking, although it’s not made clear, she freaks out and takes the knife from him and stabs him repeatedly, killing him.
As both crew fight each other, a British frigate arrives, capturing the pirates. They are all put on trial for the murder of the Dutch captain. While on the stand, Emily doesn’t say what happened. Is she protecting herself or does she honestly not remember? The prosecutor keeps grilling her, but she breaks down crying. Even though there’s no evidence, Chavez is convicted of the murder and all the pirates are charged with being accomplices. They are to be hanged. Zac is angry because he doesn’t want to die for something he did not do. Chavez is strangely at peace and says that we are all “guilty of something.” The film ends with the children playing while a ballad plays on the soundtrack with lyrics about the pirates dying. It makes for a very dark and odd ending.
Emily comes across as some type evil entity, causing calamity wherever she goes. Quinn’s character is interesting, but his motivation is unclear. Coburn’s talents are wasted. It’s too bad the studio didn’t put these two fine actors to better use. An action film starring Coburn and Quinn sounds good on paper. Unfortunately, that’s not what this disc contains.
The DVD is bare bones having only the film and its trailer. The disc is full screen on one side and widescreen on the other. The credits before the film begins are very dirty, but the rest of the film looks fine.