Jamaica Inn (1939)

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  • directed by Alfred Hitchcock
  • starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Leslie Banks, Marie Ney, Robert Newton
  • In Cornwall, around 1800, a young woman discovers that she’s living near a gang of criminals who arrange shipwrecks for profit.

Hitchcock: I did not so much direct the film as I did referee it.

Hitchcock called it a disgusting film after the fact and after watching this I can safely say that he wasn’t referring to gore. This was the final British film for Hitch before a deal with David O. Selznick sent him off to Hollywood and I don’t know if the deal was heavy on his mind during the production or if star and co-producer Charles Laughton just bullied him into submission as was reported, but this was a guy clearly at a loss as to how to corral this production into the direction of any semblance of quality. There is not a trace of Hitchcock’s signature winks, nods, or delicate plotting. Not even a trademark cameo spot for the director, though if you squint at certain points, Laughton’s Sir Humphrey Pengallan could pass for him.

If you know anything about the professional and personal traits of Hitchcock and Laughton, it should be no shock that there was a power grab by the latter in terms of his character, casting of certain roles, and other aspects of the overall production. I use the term power grab and not power struggle because it seems that, judging by what ended up on the screen, the notoriously unbending director was quick to relent in most cases. Laughton wants to alter the entire plot structure to ensure more screen time? Sure. He wants to add unnecessary flourishes to his character’s mannerisms? OK. He insists on the unknown Maureen O’Hara for the lead? Yes, please. To be fair, that last one was obviously the one brilliant choice.

This isn’t to say that Laughton’s cartoonish presence dragged the picture down at all. He, along with O’Hara, were the only interesting parts of the entire thing. The problem is when you somehow manage to grab the reins from Hitchcock and then pay attention to your performance alone with the director lying down on all other details, what are you left with? I honestly can’t answer that question even having just watched the thing. It was an interesting concept and I’m sure the Daphne du Maurier novel on which it was based was riveting, but the mismatched tones throughout and the absence of any technical skill that you’d expect from such talent was remarkable for all the wrong reasons.

Hitchcock obviously has a way with mysteries, so with Jamaica Inn I think he ended up presenting us with one of the biggest whoppers of them all. How is it possible that this film is found sandwiched between the masterpieces The Lady Vanishes and Rebecca in his filmography and not at the very beginning of his career?

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

3 Responses to Jamaica Inn (1939)

  1. Pingback: Number Seventeen (1932) | classixquest

  2. Pingback: Number Seventeen (1932) | classixquest

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