Deborah Baxter Smiles, Martin Amis Falls & Rebecca CriesFriday, February 08, 2008
The beautiful blond boy hangs out from the window of a Tampico, Mexico house of ill repute to watch a cock fight. He leans too far and plummets to the ground. The pirates declare him dead. This is a scene from the equally beautiful film, the 1965 A High Wind In Jamaica directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Anthony Quinn plays a bumbling but human pirate and James Coburn is his lieutenant at his almost not quite villainous best. The children headed by the astounding child actress Deborah Baxter terrorize the pirates, almost, into submission. Martin Amis, the little boy on the book cover is the little boy who falls out of the window. Nobody who might have seen this fine English film in 1965 would have suspected any kind of career for the little boy concentrating their amazement on Deborah Baxter's acting prowess and screen presence. Of the film Amis writes in Experience:
I talentlessy played one of the children in Mackendrick's version of the Richard Hughes novel A High Wind In Jamaica...I played chess with my co-star, the consistently avuncular Anthony Quinn, and the divinely pretty daughter, Lisa Coburn- of my other co-star, genial James, was in love with me and followed me everywhere, even down into the deep end of the hotel on Runaway Bay. I loved her too but I wanted my moments of reprieve. She was seven. The film's central character was an extraordinary girl called Deborah Baxter, who played my younger sister. I had eyes (but no lips, no hands) for her older sister: Beverly Baxter.
We saw the film last night. Even though it was our 40th wedding anniversary we had the two children with us. Bruce Stewart was away on a snow shoeing expedition in male bonding and Hilary Stewart was out to see Juno with her mother-in-law. So we had a homemade pizza and watched A High Wind In Jamaica. Of Deborah Baxter's role as Emily, Rebecca used a word I taught her last week, "She is certainly a precocious child."
We discussed how this English film, unlike many American films, does not show the usual two extremes of humanity, the all good and the all bad. I explained that the protagonists were a mixture of good and bad and in most cases the good somehow trumped the bad. Rebecca was not able to understand the shock the children showed when they were safe again in England and the pirates were in the docket. "I would have told them that Anthony Quinn had not killed that Dutch captain and that..." Somehow the complexity of the problem made Rebecca not only miss her dad but when she called her mother Hilary she began to cry. As Rebecca had watched Lauren looking at the movie with a cool detachment I can surmise that she must have thought, "Enjoy being a child while you can. It will soon end."
I only hope that both Rebecca and Lauren can somehow grow up and smile and perhaps adjust as Emily must have in A High Wind In Jamaica or at the very least learn to smile like Deborah Baxter does now in this picture taken by photographer Howard Atherton. This is an anniversary I will not soon forget.
Addendum from email, February 12
Of course I don't mind you writing about me, I feel honoured!
I am glad that A High Wind in Jamaica has not been forgotten! I forwarded your blog to the photographer of the picture, Howard, who in fact is a big cinematographer! He is a good friend of mine. I am pressing on with my career although it is much more difficult now!
Thank you again for your sweet words.