Jamaica Inn (film)

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Jamaica Inn
Original movie poster for the film Jamaica Inn.jpg
Film poster for the US release
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Erich Pommer
Charles Laughton
Written by Daphne du Maurier
Sidney Gilliat
Joan Harrison
Alma Reville
J. B. Priestley
Starring Charles Laughton
Maureen O'Hara
Emlyn Williams
Music by Eric Fenby
Cinematography Bernard Knowles
Harry Stradling
Edited by Robert Hamer
Kino International, Ltd.
Distributed by Mayflower Pictures (UK)
Paramount Pictures (US)
Release date(s) 15 May 1939 (UK)
13 October 1939 (US)
Running time 108 minutes (UK)
98 minutes (US)
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Jamaica Inn is a 1939 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock adapted from Daphne du Maurier's 1936 novel of the same name, the first of three of du Maurier's works that Hitchcock adapted (the others were her novel Rebecca and short story "The Birds"). It stars Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara. It is the last film Hitchcock made in the United Kingdom before he moved to the United States.

The film is a period piece set in Cornwall in 1819; the real Jamaica Inn still exists, and is a pub on the edge of Bodmin Moor. The score was written by Eric Fenby.


Jamaica Inn is the headquarters to a gang of smugglers, led by the innkeeper Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks). The smugglers extinguish coastal beacons to cause ships to run aground on the Cornish coast. Then they loot the wrecks and kill the surviving sailors.

As Mary Yellen (Maureen O'Hara) is travelling in a carriage, the driver refuses to drop her at Jamaica Inn as she requested. The passengers are also incredulous that a young lady wants to go to Jamaica Inn, but she gets off even though the carriage will not go back. Instead, she is dropped near the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton) and requests a horse so she can continue her travels. Everyone there also tells her not to go there. Nevertheless, Mary says she just came from Ireland, and as the orphaned niece of Joss's wife Patience (Marie Ney), she intends to live at Jamaica Inn. The next day, Pengallan accompanies Mary to Jamaica Inn.

Joss immediately tries to kiss and push himself on Mary when he sees her, while Patience is distraught to learn her sister has died. When Mary tells Joss it was actually Pengallan who took her to Jamaica Inn, Joss is shocked. He goes upstairs and reports to Pengallan, who is revealed to be the leader of the group. Meanwhile, the group of smugglers convene to discuss a "leak" of goods, and suspect Traherne (Robert Newton), a gang member who has been with them for two months, of embezzling goods. As he is lynched by his fellow smugglers for embezzling, Mary cuts down the rope and saves his life.

Joss is furious that Traherne escaped and that Mary helped him, worried that Traherne has enough information to sell out the gang to the authorities. The two hide as the gang looks for them, and seek shelter near the sea. Later that night, Joss goes to Pengallan to inform him that Traherne escaped, but Pengallan is furious that Joss came to his house, as there shouldn't be any connection between the two.

The next morning, they flee the beach as the gang corners them down a cavern, and seek the protection of Pengallan, not knowing that he actually protects Joss's gang and uses the loot to maintain his lavish lifestyle. When Traherne reveals that he is actually a secret law-officer, trying to bring down Joss's gang, Pengallan is shocked. Pengallan and Traherne perform a search of the Jamaica Inn, Pengallan takes Joss aside and tells him a wreck needs to be performed because he needs the money. The gang leave to do the wreak, leaving Traherne tied up. Joss also pretends to tie up Pengallan as a ploy to fool Traherne, but he secretly leaves his hands free.

After the gang leaves, Pengallan releases himself from the restraints, gives Patience a loaded pistol and tells her to kill Traherne if he gets loose. He then leaves. Traherne reasons with Patience, and promises to let her and Joss escape if she releases him. She does, and tells him where the wreck -- and the gang -- will be. Meanwhile, Mary escapes captivity, goes to the wreaking site, and lights a beacon to warn the ship. The ship then turns away and does not wreck. The gang capture Mary and are about to kill her for preventing the wreak. Joss rescues her and they escape by horse cart, but Joss is shot while escaping and collapses when he reaches Jamaica Inn. As Patience is about to tell Mary that Pengallan is crooked, Pengallan shoots and kills Patience from offstage. Joss then dies as well. Pengallan reveals himself to Mary, takes her hostage, ties her up, gags her and tells her that he will keep her and take care of her now that she has no one.

The gang returns to Jamaica Inn to find Joss and Patience dead. Just then, the authorities arrive and take the gang into custody. Traherne goes to find Mary, and Pengallan is cornered on the ship. He threatens to kill Mary, but drops his gun. He then climbs the mast of the ship and jumps to his death, shouting "Make way for Pengallan!"


Character actors[edit]

Besides Laughton and O'Hara, secondary characters are played by several notable stage-and-screen character actors of the time, including "bruiser-type" actor Leslie Banks (who played General Zharov in The Most Dangerous Game) as Joss Merlin, and Robert Newton in an uncharacteristic role as Jem Trahearne, a suave young secret-police agent.


Charles Laughton was a co-producer on this movie, and he reportedly interfered greatly with Hitchcock's direction. Laughton was originally cast as Joss, but he cast himself in the role of the villeanous Pengallan, which was originally to be a hypocritical preacher but was rewritten as a squire because unsympathetic portrayals of the clergy were forbidden by the Production Code in Hollywood.[1] Laughton then demanded that Hitchcock give his character greater screen time. This forced Hitchcock to reveal that Pengallan was a villain in league with the smugglers earlier in the film than Hitchcock had initially planned.[2]

Laughton's acting was a problem point as well for Hitchcock. Laughton portrayed Pengallan as having a mincing walk, to the beat of a German waltz which he played in his head,[3] while Hitchcock thought it was out of character. Laughton also demanded that Maureen O'Hara be given the lead after watching her screen test (her acting in the screen test was sub par, but Laughton could not forget her eyes). After filming finished, Laughton brought her to Hollywood to play Esmeralda opposite his Quasimodo in 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where she became an international star.

In March 1939, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood to begin his contract with David O. Selznick. Thus, as it was said in the beginning of this article, Jamaica Inn was his last British picture, as well as one of his most successful.[3]


Critics disparaged the film, largely because of the lack of atmosphere and tension which was present in the book, with its light-hearted, often camp banter, and portly landlord, far-removed from the darker characters and sinister inn and coastline depicted in the book. Today it is considered one of Hitchcock's worst films.[4][5] Hitchcock himself was disgusted with the film even before it was finished and stated that it was a "completely absurd" idea.[6] However, the film still garnered a large profit (US$3.7 million, a huge success at the time) at the box office.[2] Daphne du Maurier was also not pleased with the finished production and for a while she considered withholding the film rights to Rebecca.[3]

In 1978, film critic Michael Medved gave Jamaica Inn a place in his book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.


  1. ^ Harris, Richard A.; Michael S. Lasky (1 December 2002). The Complete Films of Alfred Hitchcock (revised edition ed.). Citadel Press Film Series. 
  2. ^ a b Leitch, Thomas (31 May 2002). The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock: From Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Vertigo. Facts on File. 
  3. ^ a b c Duguid, Mark. "Jamaica Inn (1939)". filmonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 November 2007. 
  4. ^ Spoto, Donald (1999). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Da Capo. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-306-80932-X. 
  5. ^ Griffin, Susan; Nadel, Alan (1 March 2012). The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock. Oxford University Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-19-976442-6. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  6. ^ McDevitt, Jim; Juan, Eric San (30 April 2009). A Year of Hitchcock: 52 Weeks With the Master of Suspense. Scarecrow Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-8108-6388-0. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 

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