Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Jamaica Inn; crime, UK, 1939; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks
England, 19th century. A gang of thieves is notorious for igniting a light above cliffs at a coast during stormy nights in order to attract ships who mistake it for a lighthouse, who then crash at the shore where the gang robs the passengers. Mary arrives to the infamous Jamaica Inn tavern and finds out that Joss, her aunt's husband, is the leader of that gang. She saves a man from hanging, James, who turns out to be a spy working for the police. It also turns out that the local judge Humphrey is actually the covert chief of the gang. Humphrey kidnaps Mary, but when James and the police surround his ship, he commits suicide.
Alfred Hitchcock's last film shot in the UK before he moved to the US to pursue his Hollywood career - where he untypically made some of his best films and actually managed to make the mill run his way in the tough studio conditions - "Jamaica Inn" is one of his rightfully forgotten films, a patchwork that does not know what direction it should take and in the end gets lost, just like his earlier films "Juno and Paycocok" and "Rich and Strange". A large part of the blame should go to Charles Laughton who is a very good actor, but - since he also took the role of the producer - egoistically subordinated the whole story to his character, the bad guy Humphrey who actually turned into a leading role, and thus hammed it up too much, mistakenly thinking that he knows better what is good for the film than director Hitchcock. The black and white cinematography, with some moody shots of the shore and stormy nights, is charming whereas the first half actually works as a crime story, yet towards the end the movie crammed too many illogical situations, plot holes and inconsistencies (in one of the many goofs, Mary is supposed to be guarded by the gang during the luring of the ship towards the coast, but then her guard just makes a few steps forward and she just conveniently runs away without anybody noticing!) while it was probably a mistake for Laughton to insist that his character gets revealed as the bad guy so early in the story, since it took away a dimension of awe later on.