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A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) is a movie everybody should see when they're ten and beginning to guess that adults are completely insane. High Wind is one of the better movies to watch with your kids, each of you carrying away a different experience and equally satisfied. Based on Richard Hughes' 1929 novel, Ealing legend Alexander Mackendrick's next-to-last film centers around the children of 19th century Caribbean missionaries, sent home to England on their own to escape the horrors of frontier life. Said "horrors" don't include a near-violent demise the children suffer through in the opening scenes — rather, the parents are concerned with their increasing familiarity with native customs and religion. Afraid to raise little pagans, they send their kids off to become pirates instead. Emily Thornton (Deborah Baxter), an English preteen we meet rushing off into the jungle to save her cat in the midst of a monsoon, quickly takes center stage as representative of all the seafaring children, which include her several brothers and sisters and the Hispanic offspring of another missionary couple. Barely out of sight of their island home, the children's ship is attacked by pirates led by Anthony Quinn and James Coburn. The kids end up sailing off with the pirates, and the sea-dogs squabble endlessly as to what to do with these kids while the British Navy is in hot pursuit. A High Wind in Jamaica seats itself squarely in the middle of the "pirate/buccaneer" dichotomy found in films about oceanic outlaws: It bows to popular conventions about the freedom and rebellion of pirates, but there's enough dark material here to lift the movie above its "Yo-ho-ho" brethren. (As with, say, Doris Day movies, the adult themes will fly over kids' heads.) Of illustrative charm is the developing relationship between Quinn's blustering Captain Chavez and Baxter's willful, outspoken Emily — from this friendship come both the funniest and ultimately most tragic moments. Is A High Wind in Jamaica as amusing as The Man in the White Suit or The Ladykillers, or as gloriously bitter as Sweet Smell of Success? Nope. This is the work of a master in his declining years, but a master nonetheless, and for all of its sentiment, the movie does avoid the kind of Disneyfication the setup might suggest and provides a nice antidote to more dour and fatalistic fables of the anarchistic child's heart, e.g. Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale. (A final note for lit majors: you can see this picture as a "handing of the torch" from one great bitter humorist to another: Author Martin Amis appears in his only film role, aged 13, as a tragic secondary character.) Fox's DVD release presents the film on a two-sided disc in both anamorphic (2:35:1) and full-frame transfers. Audio options include English stereo and the original mono, along with Spanish and French tracks. Spanish and English trailers. Keep-case.
—Robert N. Lee



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