Sunday, February 3, 2013


(October 1939, U.S.)

Although director Alfred Hitchcock will always be synonymous with films like PSYCHO (1960), THE BIRDS (1963) and a string of wonderful titles starring such Hollywood greats as Cary Grant and James Stewart, it's quite often that I really enjoy his early black and white British period of films like THE 39 STEPS (1935), SABOTAGE (1936), THE LADY VANISHES (1938), and JAMAICA INN. Believe it or not, I actually recall the original novel by Daphne du Maurier as a piece of required reading in my sixth grade class back in 1979. I didn't see the film, though, until my adulthood.

At its heart, this is a rather bizarre pirate story in which the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, England (the year is 1819) is headquarters to a gang of savage smugglers, led by the innkeeper Joss Merlyn (played by Leslie Banks). Their ongoing diabolical scheme is to extinguish coastal beacons in order to directly cause ships to run aground and crash into the rocks on shore. They then proceed to loot the wreckage, its valuable contents and kill all the surviving sailors. All of this, though, is secretly controlled by the local wealthy magistrate, Sir Humphrey Pengallon (played by Charles Laughton), his secret known only by Joss. When newly-arrived neice Mary (played by Maureen O'Hara) starts poking her nose around, it's not long before she discovers the truth of her wicked uncle's ways and must put her faith into one of his men who's actually an undercover officer of the law. Unfortunately for her, but fortunate for the viewer who enjoys a bit of an old fashioned plot twist, she also puts her faith into the assistance of Sir Humphrey, whom we already know is really the bad guy.

It should be noted that in addition to the wonderful cinematography of land and water in this film, there is a very strong and evil presence of the WIND which seems to never stop blowing and howling throughout the story. As a psychological element of sound, it serves to constantly remind us that there is something very wrong and very ugly taking place at Jamaica Inn.

As the "master of suspense", JAMAICA INN serves to remind us that Alfred Hitchcock was a man who seemded willing to take on a variety of stories, each with their own element and meaning of suspense, surprise and resolution to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. I urge you, if you never have, to experience and educate yourself with his early British period to not only appreciate classic black and white cinema, but to get a much better sense of where the man was destined to take us when he inevitably became the most celebrated film director in America during his golden period.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Sir Humphrey Pengallon: "You seem to have a very clear picture of him. Tell me, what sort of a fellow do you really think he really is?"
James Trahearne: "This man deliberately plans not only the wrecking of ships, but the cold-blooded slaughter of any who survive the wreck! He remains aloof, contempt to hire the scum of the coast to do his murderous work for him, thinking there's no blood on his own hands, but there is! Heaven help him! There's blood on that man's very soul! I'd like to break...!"

The great irony here is that the man Mr. Trahearne is (unknowingly) referring to is sitting right behind him preparing to shoot him in the back!

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