Released in 1939, Jamaica Inn is considered by many to be an inferior work in the filmography of director Alfred Hitchcock. Though apparently not a happy experience for Hitchcock due to interference from star and co-producer Charles Laughton, Jamaica Inn deserves a second look, as it really is an underrated gem. The film gave Laughton a chance to add to what was already an impressive list of swarthy, overwrought characters, and marked the screen debut of Maureen O’Hara.
Set in the early 1800’s, a young Irish lass named Mary (O’Hara) comes to stay with her aunt Patience (Mary Ney) and her abusive, tyrannical uncle Joss (Leslie Banks) at Jamaica Inn on the Cornish coast, after the death of her mother. Mary soon becomes aware that the inn acts as a hideout for a gang of ship wreckers. When she witnesses them hanging new member Jem Traherne (Robert Newton), Mary cuts him down, and they both flee to the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Laughton), where Jem reveals he is in fact, an undercover lawman, assigned to investigate the wrecks. Unfortunately, Jem and Mary don’t realize that Pengallan is actually the secret leader of Joss’ gang.
While Jamaica Inn was a box office failure at the time of its release, the film is notable for several reasons. This was the last film Alfred Hitchcock did in Britain before he signed with David O. Selznick to come to Hollywood, and it was his first adaptation of a trio of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels. The subsequent works Rebecca (1940) which won the Oscar for Best Picture, and The Birds (1963), are considered by many, two of the best films ever made. Viewed in the context of knowing what Hitchcock would accomplish with Rebecca just a year later, Jamaica Inn is a kind of proving ground for Hitchcock. There are brief flashes of greatness, but the restraints of the production limited his abilities. Whatever its drawbacks, Jamaica Inn is worth a watch for the scene chewing, over-the-top performance of Charles Laughton. Subtlety was not in his vocabulary!
This new 4K restoration screened as part of the Cannes Classic section of the 2014 line-up. It looks rather stunning. Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the image is incredibly stable throughout, offering impressive amounts of fine detail. Contrast is solid, providing deep blacks and impressively gradated gray scale. Resolution is superb. This is just a pristine restoration.
Jamaica Inn features an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono track which is much better than expected. It sounds quite full throughout, with just a bit of a drop in the upper registers. Dialogue is clean throughout, with no notable hisses or pops.
No subtitles are included.
The following extras are included:
- Feature Length Audio Commentary: Historian Jeremy Arnold offers up lots of background on the filming process, the somewhat touchy relationship between Hitchcock and Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara and the other actors.
- Shipwrecked in a Studio: A Video Essay with Donald Spoto (HD, 13:06) Hitchcock biographer Spoto provides more background on the film, particularly, the relationship between Laughton and O’Hara.
- 2014 Re-Release Trailer (HD, 1:28)
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