A High Wind in Jamaica is a 1965 DeLuxe Color film, based on the novel of the same name, and directed by Alexander Mackendrick for the 20th Century-Fox studio. It stars Anthony Quinn and James Coburn as the pirates who capture five children.
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 (1912–1993) 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 the isle of Jamaica in 1870. The Thorntons (Nigel Davenport and Isabel Dean), parents of five children, feel it is time to send the children to England for a more civilized upbringing and education.
During the voyage, pirates board the ship and take the children captive. The pirate captain, Chavez (Anthony Quinn) and first mate Zac (James Coburn) take an immediate liking to young Emily (Deborah Baxter), and decide to sail to Tampico and leave the kids safely with a woman there named 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 his first mate (James Coburn) are unconcerned. But then one of the children, John (Martin Amis), slips from a window of the brothel and falls to his death. Chavez doesn't wish any more harm to come to the young ones so he refuses to attack a Dutch vessel that comes into view. His men mutiny, seize the Dutch boat, and capture its captain (Gert Fröbe).
A Royal Navy patrol vessel appears and the pirates re-board their own ship in panic. Chavez declines to join them. Awakened from sleep by the captured Dutch captain seeking her help, Emily mistakes his intentions and in a frenzy stabs him to death. The shocked Chavez intervenes too late and is left with bloodstains on his hands. He and his former crew are taken prisoner and shipped to Britain for trial. Under questioning in court, Emily places the responsibility of killing the Dutch captain on Chavez instead of on herself. The pirates are hanged. In the final scene children play innocently by a lake. Emily stands amongst them – staring at a model ship with adult eyes.Anthony Quinn as Chavez
James Coburn as Zac
Deborah Baxter as Emily
Dennis Price as Mathias
Lila Kedrova as Rosa
Nigel Davenport as Frederick Thornton
Isabel Dean as Alice Thornton
Kenneth J. Warren as Capt. Marpole
Ben Carruthers as Alberto (as Benito Carruthers)
Gert Fröbe as Dutch Captain (as Gert Frobe)
Brian Phelan as Curtis
Trader Faulkner as Pirate
Charles Laurence as Tallyman
Charles Hyatt as Pirate
Dan Jackson as Pirate
Viviane Ventura as Margaret Fernandez
The title song was produced and written by Larry Adler and sung by Mike LeRoy.