Friday, April 23, 2021

Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara check in at “Jamaica Inn”

Jamaica Inn (1939) is a British period adventure movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, and Robert Newton. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. The screenplay was written by long-time Hitchcock collaborators Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison, and Alma (Mrs. Hitchcock) Reville.

A modest inn in Cornwall is the headquarters for a gang of murderers and thieves. The gang plans a series of shipwrecks by extinguishing the warning lights along the coast. After the ships run aground, the gang kills the surviving crew and steals the cargo.  

Mary Yellan (O’Hara) goes to live with her Aunt Patience, her deceased mother’s sister, at Jamaica Inn. Immediately, Mary fears things are not quite right. She becomes acquainted with Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Laughton), the local squire who takes a shine to her and treats her kindly. As Mary becomes more and more suspicious of the goings-on at Jamaica Inn, she fears for her life and doesn’t know who to trust.

Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) was an English film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. Hitchcock directed over 50 feature films, many are classics that have been honored and studied for years. Some of Hitchcock’s classic films include The 39 Steps (1939), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960).

Charles Laughton (1899 – 1962) had a long career on the stage and in Hollywood. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and was nominated for two other Best Actor Oscars for his performances in Mutiny on the Bounty (1933) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). His performance in The Suspect is considered one of Laughton’s most natural screen performances, which is credited to director Siodmak, a close personal friend of the actor.

Maureen O’Hara (1920 - 2015) was an Irish-American actress and singer. In her native Ireland, O’Hara trained with the Abbey Theatre at age 14. She screen-tested for the role of Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn at age 19. Director Hitchcock wasn't impressed with O’Hara’s test but Laughton persuaded him to cast her. After finishing the film, O’Hara moved to Hollywood where she was signed to contract at RKO. In 1941 she starred in How Green Was My Valley, her first collaboration with director John Ford. She starred alongside Tyrone Power in The Black Swan (1942), The Spanish Main (1945) with Paul Henreid, and Sinbad the Sailor (1947) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. That same year she starred in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street with John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and a young Natalie Wood. Other popular films include The Quiet Man (1952), The Parent Trap (1961), and McLintock! (1963). 

Robert Newton (1905 – 1956) was a popular English actor and is probably best remembered for his role as Long John Silver in the Walt Disney version of Treasure Island (1950). His exaggerated accent in that role is credited with what we consider the “pirate voice.” Newton was a popular player in London’s West End and he also appeared on Broadway, replacing Laurence Olivier in Private Lives. He made several films in Hollywood including The Desert Rats (1953), Les Miserables (1952), Blackbeard the Pirate (1952), and The High and the Mighty (1954).

Jamaica Inn trivia:

  • The first of three Hitchcock films based on the works of Daphne Du Maurier. The other two were Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963).
  • Hitchcock did not make a cameo in the film; he made cameos in all future films.
  • In interviews, Hitchcock said he was unhappy with the final results, even though the film was a big success at the box office.
  • This was the last of Hitchcock’s British films.

To watch the film on YouTube click the link below.

To join the discussion of this film on April 27, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an email with an invitation and link to the meeting.

Why watch this film?

  • It’s the last of director Alfred Hitchcock’s British films.
  • It marks the movie debut of Maureen O’Hara.
  • The film is considered a minor work by the director and is hardly ever screened or discussed.
  • So-called second-rate Hitchcock is often better than first-rate anyone else.

Discussion questions:

  1. What was your overall impression of the film?
  2. If you didn't know beforehand, would you have suspected that this was a Hitchcock film?
  3. What did you think of the performances of Laughton and O’Hara? Was this an impressive screen debut for the then nineteen-year-old female lead?
  4. Why do you think this film is ignored when discussing Hitchcock’s films?

Maureen O’Hara and Robert Newton

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