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Set in Cornwall where a young orphan, Mary, is sent to live with Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss who are the landlords of the Jamaica Inn. Mary soon realizes that her uncle's inn is the base of a gang of ship wreckers who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. The girl starts fearing for her life. Written by
Claudio Sandrini <firstname.lastname@example.org>
JAMAICA INN is one of the Hitchcock films which might be said not to be a Hitchcock film. Its not that one or two 'Hitchcockian' elements are missing but almost all are missing. JAMAICA INN is adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier novel and was his last English film. Hitchcock's next film and his first American film would be REBECCA also from a Du Maurier novel. He would later go on to direct another film from a Du Maurier original, THE BIRDS, so there is no incompatibility there. The writers were the usual Hitchcock suspects from his English period. Frequent collaborator Sidney Gilliat and long serving Joan Harrison, later the producer of Hitch's TV show, as well as wife Alma Reville, were credited along with J.B. Priestly who gets an additional dialogue credit.
The villain of the piece, Charles Laughton, as the unlikely Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the local magistrate on the Cornish coast, is revealed almost immediately. The hero however is obscured for the first reel. The film is built around Laughton and he chews the scenery most wonderfully. It is essentially his picture, the producer, Erich Pommer, a German refugee and one of the founders of famous UFA studios, was Laughton's house producer. Priestly must have been brought in to goose up Laughton's dialogue. Another factor making this film sort of the anti-Hitchcock is the lack of humor whether provided by the situation or the mixing of classes. Laughton is funny, in a way, though he could have been funnier if he had gone completely over the top. As such there is a bit too much naturalism in Laughton's portrait of a Regency rake straight from the Hellfire Club, gone to seed and off his head with greed, rather like the last panel in a Hogarth series of etchings. While Hitchcock villains could be unspeakably cruel they always had a modicum of wit to go along with it.
Think of Otto Kruger in SABOTEUR and most especially James Mason in NORTH BY NORTHWEST issuing the foulest threats is the most cultured and dulcet tones. Laughton never gets this type of exchange going : (from NORTH BY NORTHWEST) Roger Thornhill: Apparently the only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead. Phillip Vandamm: Your very next role, and you'll be quite convincing, I assure you.
For all his facial gymnastics Laughton is pretty straight forward a villain, with only his position to throw people off the scent, something else the real Hitchcock would have found very amusing.
Hitchcock even uses terrible screen clichés without even a special twist or variation on them. Usually Hitchcock will use the audiences expectations to his own advantage. There is the one where some one is about to mention the name of the murderer/villain-in-chief and just as they are about to speak the name a shot rings out and they fall over dead and mute forever. In this case it doesn't even make sense as everyone knows who the villain is but its used anyway because it is always used in this sort of picture. In Charlie Chan pictures it's usually preceded by Number one or number two son exclaiming "Look pop, the lights are flickering" and then blam! the stoolie doesn't get to spill the beans after all and we have another twenty minutes of film for sure. Its as if Hitchcock really just doesn't care.
There is one moment where the film is lifted into the territory rare and wild that bears the special attentions of Hitchcock. I'm sorry to say that it concerns bondage and sadism. The scene has Laughton first gaging Maureen O'Hara and then tying her hands behind her back. It is so effective not because of its graphic nature but because Laughton tells O'Hara what he is going to do before he does it. With the white silken gage pulled taught in her mouth he drapes a hood over her head so that she begins to look like the Virgin Mary bound and gaged. The photography is particularly Germanic here (Pommer and Hitchcock had made THE PLEASURE GARDEN, his first complete film, together in the silent days) and I was reminded not only of the Virgin, but as a Munch like Virgin with her face frozen in anxiety and also the Good Maria from Metropolis. It is a scene which pops out from the rest of the hectic goings on of the rest of the film.
Since its not very good Hitchcock it is rarely shown. Even in this sub genre it is outclassed by Fritz Lang's MOONFLEET or even De Mille's very silly REAP THE WILD WIND. JAMAICA INN was just, as John Ford used to put it, a job of work and Hitch was off to America. Seeing this film made me want to dig out one of my copies of Truffaut's extensive interview with Hitchcock to see what he had to say on the matter. He was usually brief when discussing terrible failures like JAMAICA INN. In sum, it is not a Hitchcock film but a Laughton one.
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