Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Maureen O'Hara, Robert Newton, Charles Laughton
Trivia: Laughton was originally cast as the uncle, but he cast himself in the role of the villain, which was originally a hypocritical preacher but was rewritten because unsympathetic portrayals of the clergy were forbidden by the Hollywood Production Code
Jamaica Inn marked the end of an era for Alfred Hitchcock, who, shortly after making this British film, headed off to Hollywood, where, over the next four decades, he would turn out some of the finest films ever made. With its tale of pirates and plundered ships, Jamaica Inn isn’t your typical Hitchcock movie, but what makes it even more unusual is that the film’s cast overshadows the famous director.
Based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier (whose works would inspire two of Hitchcock’s later films, Rebecca and The Birds), Jamaica Inn transports us to the English seaside town of Cornwall in the early days of the 19th century. Mary (Maureen O’Hara) has come to Cornwall to visit her Aunt Patience (Marie Ney), who runs the Jamaica Inn with her husband, Joss (Leslie Banks). What Mary doesn’t know is that the Jamaica Inn also serves as a hideout for pirates, who lure unsuspecting ships to shore so they can steal their cargo. Soon after her arrival, Mary saves the life of Traherne (Robert Newton), a police officer posing as a pirate, forcing the two of them to flee for their lives. Seeking refuge, they pay a visit to the local magistrate, Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charles Laughton) with the hopes that he’ll offer them protection. But can Sir Humphrey be trusted?
There are moments when Jamaica Inn has the look and feel of a Hitchcock film; the opening scene, where a ship is drawn to shore as a storm rages on, is exciting (in fact it’s one of the film’s only action-oriented scenes). Yet what makes Jamaica Inn such an interesting film is its impressive cast. Charles Laughton delivers a bombastic performance as Sir Humphrey, bringing his usual flair to the role, and even though O’Hara was only 18 when she made Jamaica Inn, the actress handles the part of Mary like a seasoned professional.
With strong supporting turns by Robert Newton, Marie Ney, and Leslie Banks, Jamaica Inn is far from your typical Hitchcock film in that the actors take center stage, while its director remains neatly tucked away in the background.