Set in Cornwall where the 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 pirates who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. The girl starts fearing for her life.
Charles Laughton ... Sir Humphrey Pengallan
Maureen O'Hara ... Mary Yellen
Leslie Banks ... Joss Merlyn
Emlyn Williams ... Harry (the peddler)
Robert Newton ... James 'Jem' Trehearne
Marie Ney ... Patience Merlyn (Joss' wife))
Wylie Watson ... Salvation Watkins
Morland Graham ... Sea Lawyer Sydney
Edwin Greenwood ... Dandy
Mervyn Johns ... Thomas
Stephen Haggard ... The boy
Most people tend to remember Robert Newton as Long John Silver, a role he perfected long after he gave up as an actor.
Jamaica Inn is an early film and here you see a fine looking Newton with the longest, darkest eyelashes I have ever seen on a man.
A side note: Not too long before Jamaica Inn was made, a scout for Sam Goldwyn spotted Newton in London and thought he would be perfect for the role of Heathcliff in the up-coming Wuthering Heights. Newton tested for the role and everyone but Goldwyn was thrilled. Goldwyn though Newton was "too ugly" to play Heathcliff, although everyone else thought he combined the emotional intensity and the black gypsy look that was perfect for that role. Eventually, Laurence Olivier was cast. He admitted that he always believed, his great friend, Newton would have been better, darker and more naturally dangerous as Heathcliff. I often wonder how Newton's career would have changed had he been given the role of Heathcliff.
Hitchcock takes advantage of the dual danger/kindness elements of Newton's personality to create a memorable hero. A young and lovely Maureen O'Hara is cast as the woman who comes to live with her Aunt after the death of her mother, only to discover she is in a den of cut-throats. She witnesses Newton being hung and just manages to save his life. Charles Laughton lends his special talent for seeming to one sort of person while actually being something quite different and Hitchcock rolls all these characters and a marvelous Leslie Banks, into a fine tumble of thievery and honor, love and loyalty, crime and punishment.
There are many of the familiar Hitchcock touches to move things along.
The climax is a bit over-the-top, but it affords Laughton a marvelous few moments.
Jamaica Inn has been re-made several times, but no one can replace Hitchcock, Newton, O'Hara and Banks.
According to Maureen O'Hara's memoirs, Alfred Hitchcock never liked to do period costume pieces, he felt those were not suitable to his particular talents. But he did this one for Daphne Du Maurier because he wanted to film Du Maurier's Rebecca later on. Which as we all know Hitchcock did and was very successful.
There are elements of Jamaica Inn that certainly might have appealed to Hitchcock. Maureen O'Hara arrives at the Jamaica Inn on Great Britain's Cornwall coast to stay with her aunt. The Inn however is the headquarters for a gang that wrecks ships on the coast, kills everyone on board and steals the cargo. Leslie Banks is the head of the group there. We also have a Georgian dandy in the person of Charles Laughton who has a lascivious eye for Maureen O'Hara. He's not what he appears to be. The whole idea of this innocent among the cutthroats not knowing who to trust would definitely have appealed to Hitchcock.
The original novel had Laughton's character as a hypocritical parson, but for American distribution his character was changed to a local nobleman. The Hays office forbade a man of the cloth be shown in such a light.
Parson or nobleman unfortunately Hitchcock did not rein in Laughton. In this particular film, he's just too hammy. Then again he was the co-producer of this so no one was in a position to tell him anything.
O'Hara credits Laughton for launching her career. He brought her to America right after this and had RKO sign her to play Esmerelda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A far better film than Jamaica Inn.
Robert Newton and Emlyn Williams have roles of substance here as well. Jamaica Inn might be worth a look.
I saw this film for the first time recently and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Whilst still over the top, the acting isn't as bad as in many British films of the period where overacting and shouting seemed to be the norm. In this film Maureen O'Hara looks wonderful, as usual, and it made a change to see a more 'restrained' performance from Robert Newton, which couldn't have been easy for him. On the negative side, I felt the look of the film was a bit 'stagey' and Charles Laughton appeared to have two hairy caterpillars where his eyebrows should have been. Not one of Hitchcocks better films but worth catching out of curiosity.
* Was reportedly one of Alfred Hitchcock's most unhappy directing jobs.
* Alfred Hitchcock made no cameo appearance in this movie.
* This was the first of three Daphne Du Maurier tales that Alfred Hitchcock made into movies. The other two were Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963).
* This was the last movie that Alfred Hitchcock made in England before going to Hollywood under contract to David O. Selznick.
* Maureen O'Hara was "Introduced" in the opening titles.