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Saturday, June 27, 2015
Alfred Hitchcock | Jamaica Inn
strutting the stage of his own imagination
by Douglas Messerli
Sidney Gillat and Joan Harrison (screenplay, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, with dialogue and continuity by Sidney Gillat, J. P. Priestley and Alma Reville), Alfred Hitchcock (director) Jamaica Inn / 1939
Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn is a movie that displays a great deal of potential for proving itself an excellent period piece, with plenty of moody Cornish waves lapping upon the shore, ship wrecks, pirates, a haunting inn within which is trapped a poor abused housewife, and a young beauty, Mary Yellen (Maureen O’Hara) who has innocently stumbled into this brutal landscape. If only the local wealthy landowner, Sir Humphrey Pengallen (Charles Laughton) had been tethered and kept under the director’s lock and key, Hitchcock’s last English-made film might have turned out quite wonderfully—although it’s clear from the start that Hitchcock was not one little bit comfortable with creating such a period piece.
Laughton as Pengallen is interested only in money—or, to be more accurate, is so primarily interested in displaying his substantial dramatic chops as a villain interested in only money—that he allows the man’s murder with a wave of his disgusted hand. Somehow, sent off to a bedroom above, Mary gets a eagle’s view of all the actions transpiring below, and with a bread knife somehow manages to cut down the hanging Traherne, saving his life.
Oh, I forgot half of the plot! For a while Mary runs away with Traherne, hiding out in a cave, before she proves she can swim (she’s already established that she’s a wonderful horsewoman); she later saves an incoming ship—the last target of this pirate gang—before being bound and gagged by Pengallen. Even then she secretly unlocks her cabin door and makes a final escape. Quite a gal! Too bad she doesn’t have a movie in which she might have displayed her numerous acting talents! But then nobody had a chance with the operatic Laughton strutting the stage of what was clearly his own imagination. Perhaps we should see this as Laughton’s first attempt at directing, a craft in which he would certainly redeem himself in his marvelous later film, The Night of the Hunter. Perhaps we can forgive him, accordingly—along with the clearly missing English director, Alfred Hitchcock—for this misbegotten romanticized adventure tale.
Los Angeles, June 26, 2015