Blu-Ray Review: Jamaica Inn (Cohen Film Collection) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020  

Jamaica Inn

Studio: Cohen Film Collection

May 18, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In 19th century Cornwall, Jamaica Inn is home to a group of pirates who make their living by robbing ships that run aground on the treacherous nearby coast. Their schemes begin to unravel with the arrival of a young Irish woman who uncovers their plot with the help of a dashing undercover naval officer.

Following a decade of success since the sound era, 1939’s Jamaica Inn was to be the last British film made by Alfred Hitchcock before he immigrated to Hollywood. An adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel–the first of three for Hitchcock, including his Oscar winning follow-up, Rebecca–Jamaica Inn is notable for a number of reasons. It features a debut lead performance by a 19 year old Maureen O’Hara, who would go on to become an regular co-star of John Wayne, as well as Charles Laughton, in his first of only two collaborations with Hitchcock. Laughton starred in and produced Jamaica Inn, and the resulting clash of egos with Hitchcock is said to have caused much tension during the making of the film. Mostly, it is known as one of Hitchcock’s rare misfires, disparaged by both critics and du Maurier on release and fading into obscurity amid Hitchcock’s decades-spanning canon.

Released by Cohen Media for the first time on Blu-ray in celebration of it’s 75th anniversary, Jamaica Inn, while no classic, seems undeserving of its reputation as a failure. The film checks off a number of boxes on the Hitchcock bingo board; double agents, a preening, well-mannered villain, a heroine (although not a blonde one) with a great deal of agency who still manages to be a damsel in distress at every turn, and a “person witnesses a murder plot” that becomes a black comedy of errors. Setting it apart from most Hitchcock films is the setting and time period. Given how much they seem like period pieces to a modern audience, it’s easy to forget that most of Hitchcock’s films were contemporary, featuring quick-witted, urbane characters and ripped from the headlines plots about spies and murder. Set in rural England in 1819, Jamaica Inn finds Hitchcock out of his natural element amid pirates and sailing ships and wind-swept beaches. His direction remains sharp, but his lack of interest in the material is palpable and the film lacks the sense of fun that defined his prior and subsequent successes. At 99 minutes, the film feels a bit stretched, with a few more reversals and plot twists than the material warrants, but the movie comes to life whenever Laughton is on screen. Cranking his pompous villain routine up to eleven, Laughton seems tailor made to play a Hitchcock antagonist. One would imagine they would have made one of the better actor/director duos in film history if they were able to tolerate each other’s egos.

Cohen Media’s blu-ray release is offers a crisp, clean restoration of the film’s classic black and white cinematography, a commentary track by film critic Jeremy Arnold and a short video essay about the making of the film by Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto. Jamaica Inn is non-essential to anyone outside of Hitchcock or Laughton completists, but it remains an interesting curiosity anyone who enjoys classic cinema.

Author rating: 6/10

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