The year is 1939 and Hitchcock is at a crossroads in his career, he has made his name with his British thrillers and Hollywood is calling. Jamaica Inn is the film which comes right before his first film in Tinseltown and it’s sadly a rare misfire in his career, he would later have a few near the end such as his awful final film Family Plot. However it’s an interesting shipwreck to watch.
Jamaica Inn is based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier whom Hitch knew personally and was the first of 3 adaptations of her work. Hitchcock’s next and first American film Rebecca is based on her most celebrated novel and was the only film he ever directed which won best film at the Oscars. The Birds is loosely based on a short story by her but he only said he read the story it’s based on once. It’s also a rare period piece from one of the most modern directors of classic Hollywood.
It’s a great set up with a tale about a young women played by Maureen O’Hara who is staying in the Jamaica Inn which is in Cornwall. The inn really is a hideout for criminals who arrange shipwrecks so they can make some cash. Charles Laughton plays Sir Humphrey Pengallan who is the local “justice of the peace” who may be more sinister than first believed to be.
The film was pretty much doomed on arrival, Hitchcock clashed repeated with his star Charles Laughton who was also a producer on the film. Laughton was cast in a different role and then cast himself as the villain of the piece. He demanded more screen time which ruined Hitchcock’s plan for the film and didn’t follow the directions he was given by the master of suspence. He also forced Hitchcock to cast O’Hara who Hitch wasn’t too keen on.
Famously Hitchcock said “All actors should be treated like cattle” so Laughton’s interference obviously rubbed him the wrong way. Laughton of course would later on to direct one of the greatest films ever made The Night of the Hunter. That film wound up being an enormous failure critically and commercial and was the only film he ever directed.
Despite clear interference from Laughton, Hitchcock tries his best with the visual aspects of the film. It has a nice gothic feel and most of the film was shot on beautifully designed sound stages. The shot through a ship’s window is very inventive for 1939. The performances leave a lot to be desired, it’s O’Hara’s first film role and isn’t quite the great actress which she would soon become. Laughton is camping it up here more than the usual and that’s not just his eyebrows, which is the most striking image the audience will remember of the film.
However for somebody who’s rule for a film’s length “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” it seems more like a solid 2 piss picture. The whole films reeks of interference and it seems like Hitchcock more of less walked off the picture to start his Hollywood career. The consequences of Hitchcock’s clear disinterest with the film is it lacks the razor-sharp focus on story and editing that even some of his lesser films have.
It’s strangely the first and possibly only Hitchcock film Arrow has or will released. Most of Hitchcock’s great films are either owned by Warner Bros. or Universal. Hopefully they might be able to release some of the MGM/Fox films like Spellbound or Notorious down the line. The disc is fairly barebones with only a short featurette and a commentary track along with a booklet in the disc’s first run.