Review: Jamaica Inn (1939)

I have yet to find a role where I did not like Maureen O’Hara!

Screenplay By: Sidney Gilliat & Joan Harrison
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

The pieces are starting to come together, but the puzzle is not yet complete. Jamaica Inn is a well made film, but it represents a step back for Alfred Hitchcock after The Lady Vanishes. There are twinges present of what made The Lady Vanishes Sir Hitchcock’s coming out party. Those twinges are nestled in between some regression in both visual flare and storytelling. That’s not to say that Jamaica Inn isn’t a film of some merit and skill, but after the quantum leap forward that The Lady Vanishes represented Jamaica Inn is a bit of a letdown.

Visually Jamaica Inn is a mixed bag. There are shots, such as when Maureen O’Hara peeps through a crack in a floorboard that are visually arresting. There aren’t enough of those moments in Jamaica Inn, Sir Hitchcock goes for a more static visual approach as opposed to a dynamic or inventive visual approach. Also of note visually are the attempts by Sir Hitchcock to include scenes of distress aboard a ship clashing with a tumultuous sea. Sometimes those shots are well done and work to add dramatic tinges to the film. Other times they look very fake and helped to take me out of the film.

As far as the story goes, it is to use a phrase again, a mixed bag. The way that the characters are put in place, both through the story and Sir Hitchcock’s camera, is interesting. I was engaged with the setting up of the characters and the interactions of the characters. The downside to the story was that it did take leaps that did not go over well with me. One example is when Robert Newton and Maureen O’Hara come to see Charles Laughton. It’s revealed that Mr. Newton’s Jem Trehearne is a cop and then before that realization can really sink in the film cuts to a shot of Miss O’Hara’s Mary in a room with her aunt, Patience. It’s a jarring cut, it left me at a state of loss as to how Miss O’Hara got into that room and why she would be in that room and not warned her aunt of what was happening if she did in fact know that it was happening. That story jump is another example of when I was taken out of the narrative of the film.

Not to beat a dead horse, but Jamaica Inn is a mixed bag. There are elements of the film that I liked a lot, and there were elements of the film that kept me at a distance from fully engaging with the film. I enjoyed Charles Laughton hamming it up to the nth degree, and I greatly enjoyed the soft yet resolute performance from Maureen O’Hara. Sir Hitchcock did bring visual flare to the film during certain sequences, but during others the static approach he chose left me cold. Jamaica Inn is an uneven film, but it’s still a good film with plenty of redeeming qualities to balance out the less savory elements of the film.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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