Legends of Horror: Jamaica Inn

October 31, 2015 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

It’s Halloween Time once again and this year I am starting a whole new box set of horror movies from Mill Creek. With Pure Terror mercifully over, I turn my attentions to Legends of Horror. This set I acquired for eight dollars at a pawn shop. With fifty movies in the set that comes to sixteen cents per movie. Now that’s value! Thankfully, we start off with a real legend of horror, Alfred Hitchcock. This movie is arguably not a horror movie, although they did a good job of creating a lot of tension, which is more than I can say for a great deal of horror movies.

The story centers around Mary, played by Maureen O’Hara. It is said in the credits introducing Maureen O’Hara so this may be her first movie or at least her first leading role. All of her family in Ireland has died. She has traveled to Cornwall to live with her Aunt Patience and her husband Joss. Joss is a leader of a band of pirates who intentionally wreck ships off the coast of Cornwall then kill the crew and plunder the ship. Mary threatens this scheme. One of the pirates gets into trouble with the group and is to be hanged for not being enough of a pirate. Mary witnesses all of this from the floor boards and saves the man’s life. His name is Jem Traherne. Secretly, he is with the police and wants to arrest the whole bunch of them. He needs to find out who is in charge of the gang of pirates first, suspecting that Joss is taking his orders from someone else. Mary suggests they seek refuge with Sir Humphrey Pengallan. He helped Mary out when she first got to town and she believes she can trust him. Little does she know that he is the secret leader of the pirates, working with Joss to lure ships to the rocky coast and skimming profits off the top. Sir Humphrey is smitten with Mary and plots to run off with her, believing that she will come around to his way of thinking before too long, being that he is a wealthy lord and all. She slows falls of Traherne but also has loyalty to her Aunt Patience. Not so much loyalty for Joss though, who proves to be a rip bastard from the moment they meet.

Much is made about the production problems with which this movie was bogged down. Charles Laughton, who played Sir Humphrey, was also a producer on the film. Having fronted much of the money, it turned into something of a vanity project for him. He looked over the script and decided Sir Humphrey should have a larger role. Hitchcock couldn’t really do much to stop him, so many scenes of comedic padding were added to placate Laughton. Hitchcock also disagreed with how Sir Humphrey should be played but Laughton had his own ideas and played it his own way, ignoring Hitchcock’s direction. Reportedly, Hitchcock hated this film, even though it was a financial success. This was the last British film he would make and left for Hollywood as quickly as he could. All of this drama lead to the film being in a book declaring it to be one of the 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. I would like to lend the authors of that book the Pure Terror box set.  A lot of other people have let the stories of production drama color their opinion of the movie and I feel that is not fair.

Jamaica Inn may not be up to the standards of an Alfred Hitchcock movie but compared to most of the movies on one of these box sets, it’s pretty damn good. I particularly like everything surrounding the character of Joss, played by Leslie Banks. You can tell he has beaten Aunt Patience into submission and would likely do the same to Mary at any provocation. And she has no problem provoking him. While he never raises a hand in this movie, the way he is played opposite of Aunt Patience, the threat that he could beat either of these women bloody at any moment for any reason hangs in the air. While the level of craft is not up to what one would expect from a Hitchcock film, even with minimal effort he managed to do a lot of things right.  He did work with lighting and shadow in certain scenes to create the mood. He did use framing and blocking to tell parts of the story. The performance from most of the characters were believable and worked really well towards telling the story. There are a couple lessons to be taken away from this movie. One is that a little bit of thought and effort can go a long way. Second is that even when Hitchcock is half-assing it, he is still better than most directors. If you stack Jamaica Inn up against most of the movies I watch on the Pure Terror set, you will see a level of craft that is not present in any of those other movies.

All of that being said, I do think that Sir Humphrey’s character was completely out of tone with what the rest of the movie was going for. He chewed the scenery and mugged the camera in every scene he occupied. He was like a character that walked in from a different movie. While there is room in a horror movie for some comic relief, Sir Humphrey gets so much screen time, it really undermined the movie as a whole.

I would recommend this movie. I found it to be engaging and enjoyable. I really liked Maureen O’Hara in the movie. Hitchcock made her look terrific and that was not an accident. When compared to many other movies you will find on these box sets and compared to other movies from the period, I feel like it really holds up as a watchable movie.

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Entry filed under: Drama, Horror. Tags: , , , , , , .

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