Jamaica Inn (1939)

jamaica inn poster 1939 movie
6.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

A few moments of suspense

Feels like the film could have been worked into a better, more suspenseful story

Movie Info

Movie Name: Jamaica Inn

Studio: Mayflower Productions

Genre(s): Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  May 12, 1939 (UK)/October 11, 1939 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

jamaica inn leslie banks maureen ohara

Well my vacation in Cornwall didn’t turn out as I hoped

Mary Yellan (Maureen O’Hara) heads to the Cornwall coast after leaving Ireland after the loss of her family.  She finds herself at the home of her aunt Patience (Marie Ney) who helps her husband (Leslie Banks) run the Jamaica Inn but quickly learns that everything at the Jamaica Inn isn’t pleasant.  When she saves a man named Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton) from being hanged, Mary discovers that the men of the Jamaica Inn make their money by luring cargo ships to the coast in the night and killing the crew when they crash.  On the run herself and questioning what to do about her aunt, Mary finds herself seeking aid from a judge named Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), but Pengallan might have his own secrets.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Jamaica Inn is a British suspense thriller.  Following his film The Lady Vanishes in 1938, the movie is an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel.  The film was Hitchcock’s last British before starting films in the United States.  It is widely considered one of Hitchcock’s worst films.

jamaica inn maureen ohara

…and it almost gets tense here

Hitchcock early films are often in public domain, cheap, and poorly transferred.  As a result, it seems like everyone has copies of these early films.  Some are silent and some like Jamaica Inn are on the verge of Hitchcock’s bigger and better work.  I finally sat down with Jamaica Inn and found it a rather dull thriller that isn’t even aided by Hitchcock’s touch.

The film isn’t very long (just at an hour and a half), but it does plod.  There isn’t really much suspense (you are introduced to the “profession” of the Jamaica Inn residences at the onset) and you even learn that the obviously villainous Pengallan is involved earlier than you should.  Keeping either of these aspects of the story a secret longer could have helped the film which slowly meanders to a rather obvious ending (sprinkled with a few good moments).

The film is the leading role premiere of Maureen O’Hara who previously had only had a few bit parts, but there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry with her lead Robert Newton.  Part of Hitchcock’s problem with the movie was due to Charles Laughton who butted headed with Hitchcock and also as a producer held some sway over the production leaving Hitchcock in a tricky situation when it came to directing.

jamaica inn maureen ohara charles laught

Hey…why do you always do crazy stuff on ships?

The movie isn’t the most visual of Hitchcock’s movies especially when you consider some of the clever shots of his previous pictures like The Lady Vanishes, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The 39 Steps.  Scenes like Mary trying to warn the ship in danger and some of the cave scene almost reach the level you hope for but don’t have the innovation you expect.

Jamaica Inn isn’t a horrible movie, but it is a rather a very plain movie.  There is room for thrills and suspense in the story, but it doesn’t feel like the movie fully capitalizes on these options.  It still would be good to see more high quality prints of Hitchcock’s early movies become readily available simply to see how he evolved as a creator and to explore and understand why movies like Jamaica Inn weren’t even up to the standards he hoped for.  Hitchcock followed Jamaica Inn with Rebecca in 1940.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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