Jamaica Inn Review
Charles Laughton in a Hitchcock film? It makes for a great performance, one that almost completely overwhelms Jamaica Inn but which doesn't make for a great film. This came as Hitchcock was preparing to leave Britain for Hollywood and while the film does not show any lack of interest, it does present a director who was not yet in full control of his own films, whose traditional blonde leading lady was now the red-headed Maureen O'Hara and who, under pressure from Laughton, was forced to reveal his villain much too early in the film. Not quite a Hitchcock film and not one that even features the director's trademark, a cameo appearance.
"Oh lord, we pray thee...not that wrecks should happen but that if they do happen, thou wilt guide them to the coast of Cornwall for the benefit of the poor inhabitants." This is the prayer that opens Jamaica Inn, a story of treachery on the Cornish coast in which ships are lured to the rocks where they are plundered for their treasure. Any remaining sailors and soldiers are murdered by the gang of smugglers. In the wind and rain, they retire to Jamaica Inn to split their takings. It is to Jamaica Inn that young Mary (Maureen O'Hara) travels. She is the orphaned niece of Patience (Marie Ney), wife of the innkeeper Joss (Leslie Banks). On her way, she hears the terrible stories that surround Jamaica Inn and, on her arrival, sees it for herself as the gang lynch Traherne, who stands accused of embezzling. Helping Traherne escape, Mary learns from him the truth about Jamaica Inn. But Traherne is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and is working to bring down the smugglers. Hearing the smugglers get ever closer, he and Mary flee to the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charles Laughton).
Hitchcock's film bears little resemblance to the Daphne du Maurier novel, sharing only the name, the location and the story of smugglers drawing ships to crash on the rocks. du Maurier disliked the film, which became a problem later in Hitchcock's career when, in Hollywood, he planned on making Rebecca. It is, then, a decidedly minor film amongst Hitchcock's films, in which the meddling of Laughton is apparent and which lacks any particular tone. Although decidedly eerie and with a certain gothic charm, there's little about Jamaica Inn that is particularly sinister. There is a suggestion of danger about the gang but with the exception of Harry, they are closer to the otherwise harmless villagers in Ryan's Daughter than any cutthroat gang of murderers.
Jamaica Inn does, though, come together rather better in its second half. Until Traherne escapes, Jamaica Inn is something of a mess, leaping about in its efforts to set up the story. Come the moment when the film draws a clear line between the smugglers and the Traherne, it finds its voice and the last half-hour is great fun as Mary rushes to the coast as the smugglers hide their lamps and draw the passing ships onto the rocks. The full treachery of the characters is revealed, guns are wielded and the rain lashes the coast. For this ending alone, Jamaica Inn is well worth watching but the pity is that Hitchcock's interest wasn't piqued by the setting of his story.
Of the two films reviewed from this Hitchcock set, Jamaica Inn probably fares the best but doesn't have quite as sharp a picture as The 39 Steps. The print, though, is in better condition, probably from not being quite so popular but the transfer remains soft and, at times, hazy. Released by Network, this is probably the same transfer as Carlton released some years back and while the contrast varies slightly, it remains rich and the print handles the dark shadows well.
The sound is fine, though, and while there is a background hiss throughout the film, it isn't always present. It does have a habit of occasionally making the dialogue indistinct. However, for the most part, the audio track is audible and there's plenty of gothic effects to listen to in the film. Given this is a Network release, there are no subtitles.
One point to make as regards this release is that unlike some of the Region 1 versions of the film - Laserlight Video, Diamond Entertainment and Westlake Entertainment releases - this features the eight minutes of film between Pengallon learning that Traherne is an officer of the law (50m07s) and Traherne and Pengallon arriving at Joss and Patience's home (58m27s). These minutes reveal much of the plot and it seems odd to have versions of the film released in which they do not feature. However, they are in this Network release much as they were on the Carlton.
Like the release of The 39 Steps in the same set, Jamaica Inn features an Introduction by Charles Barr (3m15s), who appears very much more relaxed than he did elsewhere, and a Photo Gallery (1m34s) of posters, publicity shots and stills from the movie.