JAMAICA INN (1939) 

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Charles Laughton
Maureen O'Hara
Leslie Banks
Robert Newton
Marie Ney
Wylie Watson
Morland Graham
Edwin Greenwood
Horace Hodges

Alfred Hitchcock



Time: 98 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Crime/Thriller

SYNOPSIS: Irish orphan girl Mary is sent to stay with her aunt and uncle in Cornwall. She soon finds her life in jeopardy when she discovers that her uncle is the head of a gang of pirates who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. Her efforts to stop their wicked ways leads her down a path filled with murder and betrayal.

BOTTOM LINE: This uneven early effort from the Master of Suspence is saved from total oblivion by the performances of Laughton and O'Hara. The former steals every scene he's in, chewing the the scenary with such gleeful abandon that you can't help but like his loathsome luminary. His reasons for "hiring" the pirates to steal and kill is to provide him with the beautiful things he needs around him to make life worthwhile. Considering the rough surroundings and the low-life locals he's forced to associate with, one can hardly blame him. It's certainly not the usual reason for mayhem and villainy, which is somewhat refreshing. His unabashedly remorseless attitude, however, leaves him few options for escape once the authorities discover what he's been up to.

O'Hara, in her first starring role, becomes another lovely item he wishes to acquire and Mary helps him along by pushing her luminous nose into business that should have gotten her killed. What's surprising about her character is she's allowed to be more than just a pretty face, doing everything she can, whether right or wrong, to remove herself and her aunt (Ney) from the rotten premises of the Jamaica Inn. The problem with that is her aunt refuses to leave her husband (Banks). He may be a scumbag, but he's her scumbag and she's not leaving his side, no matter what. Her decision places Mary literally in between a rock and a bunch of angry pirates, willing to slit her throat for a few bits of gold. That she's able to thwart their efforts time and again is more than a little unbelievable, but it gives the film at least one person you can root for. Her love interest is a lawman (Newton) that she rescued from the pirates and then wishes she hadn't when he goes after her aunt and uncle. Huh? I know you have to stick up for your family, but are you willing to hang for people you just met?

"You see, she was going to tell you about me. I didn't like that. I wanted to tell you myself."

Perhaps her reasons were better explained in the book. Her flip-flopping certainly adds drama and complexity to the proceedings even if her decisions don't make much sense. In the end, she finds herself alone and in the creepy clutches of Laughton in a kidnapping sequence that reeks of classic Hitchcock. Unfortunately, the tension ebbs and flows too much to create a consistent mood of fear and suspense. There's enough action (two shipwrecks, several narrow escapes) to hold one's interest, but mostly because of the screen presence of O'Hara and Laughton. The rest of the cast delivers either mediocre (Newton) or melodramatic (Banks) turns that make their characters more ridiculous than menacing. If you've seen most of Hitch's more popular pics, this one might be interesting if only to see how he eventually developed his signature style. Unfortunately, there's not enough Hitch and too much Laughton to generate a great film. Watchable but not memorable.

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