It has been a while since I have watched a Hitchcock movie. That is definitely one of the best things about the Legends Of Horror box set, as I have been able to see a lot of his lesser known films. Today’s movie is one that has a somewhat dubious distinction as it is considered one of Hitchcock’s worst movies. Now considering my enjoyment of bad movies, this is one that I just had to watch. So let’s see exactly what I am getting into with today’s movie, Jamaica Inn.
The plot: In the early 19th century off the Cornish coast, gangs tended to cause ships to wreck so they could plunder the wreckage for profit. One night, a man rides out from the Jamaica Inn and covers up the coastal beacon light, causing a ship to crash into the rocks. As the crew abandon ship, the rest of the gang of thieves kill the surviving crew members, then proceed to loot the ship. Some time later, a young woman named Mary Yellan is riding in a coach and asks to be let out at Jamaica Inn but the coach driver refuses to stop as the Jamaica Inn is the headquarters of the gang of wreckers. The coach driver stops at the house of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the local squire and Justice of the Peace, and lets Mary off there. Mary goes up to the house, where Pengallan is hosting a dinner party, and though he tries to dissuade her from going to the inn, he relents when he learns that she is the niece of the innkeeper’s wife and gives her a horse to ride while he accompanies her and carries her trunk. When Mary reaches the inn, she is met at the door by her uncle Joss, who tries to kiss her but stops when his wife Patience comes down stairs. As Mary and Patience talk, Patience is saddened to learn that her sister had died. Meanwhile, Joss goes to speak with his gang, who are getting curious as they don’t seem to make much money off of the loot that they steal from the ships. Thinking someone might be embezzling goods from their hauls, the gang proceeds to question each man’s loyalty and suspicions fall on Jim Trehearne, who has only been with the gang for 2 months. Patience suddenly enters the room and tells Joss that Pengallan had accompanied Mary to the inn and Joss goes to meet with him, revealing that Pengallan is the mastermind of the gang. When the gang moves to hang Trehearne, Joss sends Patience and Mary up to their rooms then goes to consult with Pengallan before giving the ok. As the gang proceeds to hang Trehearne, they begin fighting over some of his belongings and Mary uses the opportunity to cut the rope and rescue him. After helping him get away, Mary sneaks back to her room only to find Joss there, who thinks she was saying good night to Patience and says she can stay. When the rest of the gang discovers Trehearne is missing, Joss finds that the rope was cut and realizes that Mary saved him. Patience hears this and has Mary hide as Joss goes upstairs to look for her. When the gang starts to search outside, Mary is grabbed by Trehearne, who helps her hide and then the two make their escape from the inn. They manage to hide out in a cave for the night but in the morning, Mary tries to run on her own but Trehearne stops her and the two end up losing their boat. The gang finds them and starts to send men after them but Trehearne convinces Mary to swim for it and the two manage to escape. Mary and Trehearne make their way to Pengallan’s place, where Trehearne reveals to Pengallan that he is an under cover officer investigating the wrecks. Joss and Pengallan head to the Jamaica Inn to investigate and take Joss captive. They move to arrest Patience as well but Mary says that she is innocent of the wrecks but refuses to leave Joss so Trehearne locks them into a room. While he is away, Joss and Pengallan talk and Pengallan tells Joss that they have to do another job that night as he needs the money to go on a holiday, not revealing that the authorities are closing in on them. When the rest of the gang shows up, they manage to take Trehearne prisoner and Pengallan has Joss pretend to capture him. Telling the gang that they have to do a job that night and they will deal with the prisoners when they return, Joss has Trehearne and Pengallan tied up but secretly makes sure that Pengallan’s hands are freed. Joss then leads the gang to go wreck the ship, taking Mary with them and leaving Patience to guard the prisoners. After the gang leaves, Pengallan frees himself, revealing himself to be the mastermind for the gang and he tells Patience to shoot Trehearne if he moves. Trehearne appeals to Patience to free him, agreeing to let Joss and her get away if she does. Patience agrees and Trehearne sets off down the road, commandeering a passing coach so he can go get some back-up. Back at the cliffs, Joss and the gang prepare to cause another wreck but Mary gets free from her restraints and heads up the cliff to attempt to relight the beacon. She manages to do so and the ship is spared but Mary is recaptured. As the gang decides what to do with her, Joss saves her and places her in the cart and starts to drive off but one of the gang members shoots him in the back. Mary makes her way to the inn, where Patience is upset to see what happened to Joss. She starts to tell Mary about Pengallan but he shoots her from hiding and as both Patience and Joss die, he approaches Mary and quickly binds and gags Mary as he plans on taking her with him. As the gang returns to the inn, they see Pengallan leaving with Mary and go looking for Joss only to find his and Patience’s bodies. As they start to leave, Trehearne arrives with some soldiers and the gang is quickly arrested but Trehearne learns that Pengallan has left with Mary. Pengallan takes Mary onto a ship that is heading for France and unties her gag but before the ship leaves, Trehearne and the soldiers arrive. Trehearne holds a gun to Mary’s head and tries to force his escape but Trehearne rescues her and Pengallan climbs up one of the masts to escape the soldiers, while Mary pleads with the soldiers not to hurt him as he has gone mad. As Pengallan looks down at the crowd below, he mocks them for wanting a spectacle and says he will give them one, then shouts out, “Make way for Pengallan!”, before jumping from the mast onto the deck below. Trehearne shields Mary from seeing the body then escorts her off the ship.
Jamaica Inn met with mixed results from the critics, holding a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, the critics liked some of the performers but felt the overall tone was flat and lacked any of the suspense that was in the original novel. Hitchcock himself was disgusted with the movie and supposedly stated that it was “a completely absurd idea.” Despite all the negative comments surrounding the movie, it was still a financial success, earning $3.7 million at the US box office.
This wasn’t as good as some of Hitchcock’s later works, but I didn’t think this was that bad of a movie. The acting was pretty good, with Charles Laughton (Pengallan), Leslie Banks (Joss), and Maureen O’Hara (Mary) all doing good jobs in their roles. The story was interesting, but while there wasn’t a mass amount of tension, there was enough to help carry the movie, though it was somewhat subdued. The camera work and editing was pretty good, with the pacing of the movie flowing pretty smoothly. It might not be what you are looking for out of a Hitchcock movie, but I think it is worth giving a shot.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5