Jamaica Inn was the last film Alfred Hitchcock directed in Britain before he packed his bags and went to Hollywood under the wings of producer David O’Selznick. Based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel, the film is often seen as one of the Master of Suspense’s lesser works and it doesn’t quite hang together despite its top tier pedigree.
Set on the Cornish coast, Jamaica Inn sees a group of ship-wreckers led by Charle Laughton’s Pengallan, lure unsuspecting ships onto the rocks in order to pillage their cargo. Maureen O’Hara and Robert Newton get caught up in their plans in this well intentioned, but ultimately lacklustre (and virtually music free) adventure. Jamaica Inn lacks much of the sizzle that marks many of Hitchcock’s great films but it’s an impressive looking feature with some superb sets and frothy performances.
Hitchcock himself wasn’t a fan of this 1939 film, but it was successful at the box office and it was a springboard for Maureen O’Hara’s stardom. Actor-producer Charle Laughton clashed with the director, souring the production and ultimately leading to its uneven tone. Hitchcock wouldn’t be put off adapting Daphne du Maurier’s work for the screen and he would go on to film the well regarded Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963). Laughton was calling the shots this time around and he had a hand in casting O’Hara, and he would later work with her again in the career-making The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
One of the great dictators, Alfred Hitchcock can be forgiven for missing the mark occasionally and Jamaica Inn is far from his best work. Things are a little convoluted and the tonal shifts from comedy to thriller feel rather abrupt, which is odd considering that he’s so adapt at it throughout the rest career. However, it’s interesting to see how Jamaica Inn fits into the rest of his filmography, closing the first chapter of his career before he went on to even greater success in Hollywood.
This beautifully remastered Arrow Films release has a detailed commentary Jeremy Arnold, while Donald Spoto delivers a highly informative (and dramatic) visual essay. A trailer completes the package.