Jamaica Inn (film)
Film poster for the US release
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Erich Pommer|
|Written by||Sidney Gilliat|
J. B. Priestley
|Based on||Jamaica Inn|
by Daphne du Maurier
|Music by||Eric Fenby|
|Edited by||Robert Hamer|
|Distributed by||Mayflower Productions|
|15 May 1939|
Jamaica Inn is a 1939 British thriller 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 features Maureen O'Hara in her first major screen role. It is the last film Hitchcock made in the United Kingdom before he moved to the United States.
In 1819, Jamaica Inn is the headquarters of a gang of wreckers led by the innkeeper Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks). The wreckers are responsible for a series of engineered shipwrecks in which they extinguish coastal warning beacons to cause ships to run aground on the rocky Cornish coast. They then kill the surviving sailors and steal the cargo from the wrecks.
The beautiful young Irishwoman Mary Yellan (Maureen O'Hara) is travelling to Jamaica Inn in a carriage, but the driver is afraid to stop there and drives a long way past the inn in spite of her repeated demands that he stop. Instead, he drops her off near the home of the local squire and justice of the peace, Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton). She meets him and requests the loan of a horse so she can go back to Jamaica Inn. Pengallan warns 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. Unable to convince her to stay, Pengallan accompanies Mary to Jamaica Inn.
When Joss meets Mary, he tries to kiss her and push himself on her. Patience is distraught to learn her sister, Mary's mother, has died. When Mary tells Joss that Pengallan has accompanied her to Jamaica Inn, Joss goes upstairs and reports to Pengallan. We learn that Pengallan is the secret criminal mastermind behind the wrecking gang, who finds out when well-laden ships are passing near the coast, determines when and where the wrecks are to be caused, fences the stolen cargo, and uses the booty to support his lavish lifestyle, passing a small fraction of the takings back to Joss and the gang.
In another part of the inn, the gang convenes to discuss why they get so little money for their efforts. They suspect Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton), a gang member who has been with them for only two months, of embezzling goods. They hang him from one of the rafters of the inn, but when they leave, Mary cuts the rope and saves his life. Trehearne and Mary flee the gang, narrowly avoiding recapture by swimming for their lives.
The next morning, they seek the protection of Pengallan, unaware that he is the secret leader of Joss's gang. Trehearne reveals to Pengallan that he is actually an undercover law-officer on a mission to investigate the wrecks. Pengallan is alarmed, but maintains his composure and pretends to join forces with Trehearne. Mary overhears this conversation and goes to the inn to warn Patience that she must flee in order to avoid being arrested as an accomplice. However, Patience refuses to leave her husband. Trehearne and Pengallan also go to the Inn to search for evidence. While Trehearne is searching the Inn, Joss and the gang return. Pengallan takes Joss aside and tells him a wrecking must be performed immediately because he needs the money to escape to France. He advises Joss to go into hiding too, as soon as the wreck is complete. Joss and the gang go to cause the wreck, leaving Trehearne tied up. Joss also seemingly ties up Pengallan so that his gang will not suspect their connection, but secretly leaves Pengallan's hands free.
After the gang leaves, Pengallan releases himself from his bonds and reveals himself to Trehearne. He gives Patience a loaded pistol and instructs her to shoot Trehearne if he gets loose, then leaves. Trehearne reasons with Patience, promising to let her and Joss escape if she releases him. She agrees and unties him. He sets out for a nearby military camp to get backup. Meanwhile, Mary goes to the wrecking site and re-lights the warning beacon which the wreckers had extinguished. The crew of the ship see the light and avoid the rocks. The gang resolve to kill Mary for preventing the wreck. Joss, who has developed a reluctant admiration for her, rescues her and the two escape by horse-cart, but Joss is shot in the back and collapses when they reach Jamaica Inn. As Patience is about to tell Mary that Pengallan is the secret leader of the wrecking gang, Pengallan shoots and kills Patience from offstage. Joss then dies of his wound as well. While Mary is reeling from the shock of witnessing these two violent deaths, Pengallan takes her hostage, ties and gags her, and tells her that he plans to keep her now that she has no one else in the world. He drives her, still tied up and covered by a heavy cloak, to the harbour, where they board a ship bound for France.
The gang returns to Jamaica Inn to find Joss and Patience dead. Just then, Trehearne arrives with a posse of soldiers, who take the gang into custody. Trehearne goes to the harbour with some of his soldiers to rescue Mary, and Pengallan is cornered on the ship. He climbs to the top of a mast, where he clumsily drops his gun. As the soldiers climb up after him, he jumps to his death, shouting "Make way for Pengallan!" Trehearne leads Mary away from the scene, and Pengallan's horrified butler Chadwick (Horace Hodges) is left wondering to himself, with a memory of Pengallan's imperious voice ringing in his ears.
- Charles Laughton as Sir Humphrey Pengallan
- Leslie Banks as Joss Merlyn
- Maureen O'Hara as Mary Yellen
- Robert Newton as James 'Jem' Trehearne
- Marie Ney as Patience Merlyn
- Horace Hodges as Butler (Chadwick)
- Hay Petrie as Groom (Sam)
- Frederick Piper as Agent (Davis)
- Herbert Lomas as Tenant (Dowland)
- Clare Greet as Tenant (Granny Tremarney)
- William Devlin as Tenant (Burdkin)
- Emlyn Williams as Harry the Pedlar
- Jeanne de Casalis as Sir Humphrey's friend
- Mabel Terry-Lewis as Lady Beston
- A. Bromley Davenport as Ringwood
- George Curzon as Captain Murray
- Basil Radford as Lord George
- Wylie Watson as Salvation Watkins
- Morland Graham as Sea Lawyer Sydney - Sir Humphrey's Gang
- Edwin Greenwood as Dandy - Sir Humphrey's Gang
- Mervyn Johns as Thomas - Sir Humphrey's Gang
- Stephen Haggard as Willie Penhale - Sir Humphrey's Gang
- Robert Adair as Captain Murray (uncredited)
- O.B. Clarence as Coach Passenger (uncredited)
- John Longden as Captain Johnson (uncredited)
- Aubrey Mather as Coachman (uncredited)
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 Count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game) as Joss Merlin, and Robert Newton in an uncharacteristic role as Jem Trehearne, 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 villainous 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. 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.
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, 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.
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. Hitchcock himself was disgusted with the film even before it was finished and stated that it was a "completely absurd" idea. However, the film still garnered a large profit (US$3.7 million, a huge success at the time) at the box office. Daphne du Maurier was also not pleased with the finished production and for a while she considered withholding the film rights to Rebecca.
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