A High Wind in Jamaica (film)

A High Wind in Jamaica is a 1965 DeLuxe Color film, based on the Richard Hughes novel of the same name, and directed by Alexander Mackendrick[2] for the 20th Century-Fox studio. It stars Anthony Quinn and James Coburn as the pirates who capture five children.

A High Wind in Jamaica
Original film poster by Howard Terpning
Directed byAlexander Mackendrick
Produced byJohn Croydon
Written byRichard Hughes
Screenplay byStanley Mann
Ronald Harwood
Denis Cannan
Based onA High Wind in Jamaica (1929)
StarringAnthony Quinn
James Coburn
Lila Kedrova
Music byLarry Adler
Mike LeRoy
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byDerek York
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • 26 May 1965 (1965-05-26) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Other cast members include Deborah Baxter, Nigel Davenport, Isabel Dean, Lila Kedrova, Kenneth J. Warren, and Gert Frobe. One of the child actors is the author Martin Amis.

The film is regarded highly today because of Mackendrick's direction and Quinn's lead performance as the pirate captain whose relationship with the children betokens a subtle change in his character, finally leading to his downfall and the pirates' end.

Mackendrick (19121993) was best known as a director of the Ealing comedies The Man in the White Suit (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955), as well as The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), now recognized as a masterpiece. The material in A High Wind in Jamaica afforded the director an opportunity to combine a light touch with serious drama. Essentially, what makes the film fascinating is the theme of children growing up and their contact with a world of adults (the pirates) who act as if they are grown-up children.


A hurricane hits Jamaica in 1870. The Thorntons (Nigel Davenport and Isabel Dean), parents of five children, feel it is time to send them to England for a more civilized upbringing and education.

During the voyage, pirates board the ship and the children end up accidentally leaving on the pirate ship. The pirate captain, Chavez (Anthony Quinn) and first mate Zac (James Coburn) do not wish to risk a kidnapping charge and decide to sail to Tampico and leave the children in the safe keeping of Rosa (Lila Kedrova), a brothel madam with a good heart.

Rosa warns the pirates that the law is after them. Since they are innocent of the crimes attributed to them by the authorities — namely, the murder of the children — Chavez and Zac are unconcerned. But then one of the children, John (Martin Amis), slips from a window of the brothel and falls to his death. Rosa does not want any involvement in a potential murder case and tells Chavez to take the remaining children away. The crew feel that the children are unlucky and demand that they be abandoned on the next island. When Emily (Deborah Baxter) falls ill, Chavez refuses to attack a passing Dutch vessel, wishing to ensure that it remain undamaged and fully manned in order to take Emily to be treated and the children to safety. His men mutiny, lock up Chavez, seize the Dutch boat, and capture its captain (Gert Fröbe).

A Royal Navy cutter appears and the pirates re-board their own ship in panic. Awakened from sleep by the bound Dutch captain approaching her with a knife so she can cut his bindings, Emily, dazed by the sleeping draughts she has been given by Chavez to soothe her pain, mistakes his intentions and in a frenzy stabs him to death. The shocked Chavez intervenes too late and is left with blood on his hands. He and his former crew are taken prisoner and shipped to Britain for trial. Under questioning in court, Emily blames Chavez for killing the Dutch captain. The pirates are hanged for this death, instead of simply being imprisoned for piracy.

In the final scene children play innocently by a lake. Emily stands amongst them staring at a model ship with adult eyes.


The title song was produced and written by Larry Adler and sung by Mike LeRoy.


Reviews were mixed to positive, with some critics expressing disappointment that aspects of the novel were lost in the transition to film. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote, "Although hands involved are either experienced or willing, a good deal of the nuance, philosophy and insight into the human condition for which the book was lauded, appear to be missing on the screen. This is simply a voyage full of sound and fury but one without much conviction or meaning."[2] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it "an absorbing, unusual and fit-for-the-family film, though it will not satisfy those who treasure the Richard Hughes novel ... By shifting the focus onto the pirate-captain, the film all but buries the role the children play."[3] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "it is a good movie, an entertaining movie, but it lacks the dirk-sharp bite of the author's prose, and the antic madness that made it such an astonishing delight now cuts through only fitfully."[4] Variety was generally positive, noting a "warm screenplay" and "often spectacular treatment" given to the color photography.[5] A review in The Monthly Film Bulletin stated that although Hughes' novel had "undergone a softening process," it was "surprising how well the film manages to suggest the feeling that the children are living in a world of their own as they play happily throughout their ordeal ... Equally good is the atmosphere of superstitious terror among the native crew, fed by the children's innocent teasing."[6]

Box office

According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $6,300,000 in rentals to break even and made $2,260,000, meaning it made a loss.[7]


  1. "A High Wind in Jamaica - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  2. Weiler, A.H. (17 June 1965). "Carried by the Wind". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
  3. Coe, Richard L. (28 May 1965). "'Wind' Shifted But Still Brisk". The Washington Post: D12.
  4. Scheuer, Philip K. (23 May 1965) "'Rolls' Purrs Smoothly—'Wind' Blows Hot and Cold". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 17.
  5. "Film Reviews: A High Wind in Jamaica". Variety: 6. 26 May 1965.
  6. "A High Wind In Jamaica". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 32 (378): 104. July 1965.
  7. Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 324.
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