With the overseas critical and box office success of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, Hollywood offers were flooding in. After visiting LA Hitchcock finally accepted a seven-year deal with Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick. There was time for one last British film before he left. Unfortunately, the finished product proved to be a step back in style to his sub-par films of the early ‘30s.
On the rocky coasts of Cornwall, in the early 1800s, a ruthless gang of smugglers lure ships to their doom and pilfer what they can find from the wrecks. Their hideout is Jamaica Inn owned by gang member Joss (Leslie Banks) and his wife, Patience (Marie Ney). Patience’s niece, Mary (Maureen O’Hara), comes to live with her aunt in the suspicious inn. Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord. Ho ho! Actually it’s because her mother died. Oh. Awkward.
After saving the life of Traherne (Robert Newton), an undercover law-officer, they seek the help of the magistrate Sir Humphrey Pengallon (Charles Laughton). Little do they know that Sir Humphrey is the villainous mastermind behind the gang.
Jamaica Inn is a feeble film. Uninteresting heroes, bland dialogue and a story almost entirely lacking in drama. The only potential enjoyment to be had is with Laughton’s ridiculously camp performance. The man knows how to chew the shit out of the scenery.
Many of the problems came from the production history. Though Hitchcock got on well with Laughton on a personal level, his dual role as star and producer meant they often clashed professionally. Hitchcock had wanted to reveal Sir Humphrey as the true villain towards the end of film, but Laughton demanded more screen time so it’s learned very early on – even given away on the film’s posters. A change which Hitchcock called “completely absurd”. But his hands were tied.
Jamaica Inn ended up a surprise box office hit, but was berated by the critics. Not that Hitch cared. He was Hollywood-bound. Jamaica Inn lasts as a sad blip in his five year winning streak.