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Legacy Review

Jamaica Inn (1939)

Jamaica Inn is a fairly early Hitchcock about an English ship-looting criminal conspiracy. (I’m tempted to call it a “pirate” flick, but though the cast and their costuming fit the bill, there’s no swashbuckling to be found.)

There are a lot of little things I loved here: Some very cool shots and sets and individual moments. Knowing the masterpieces Hitchcock would make in the coming decades, it’s easy to watch this and see flashes. I keep coming back to a brief moment when someone barges into a room; the camera pans to the surprised people inside, one of whom is holding a golden doubloon coin; and the entrant shoots and shatters the coin. It’s a swift little action, but the kind that immerses you in the tension. It’s, unfortunately, the kind of moment this movie could have used more of.

So, there were things I liked in micro, but in macro Jamaica Inn never quite comes together. The scenario is just not rich enough; despite some work by Hitchcock and the writers to craft compelling intrigue via shifting identities and allegiances, the plot largely feels stalled out for most of its second half when we already know all the secrets.

Not helping is the overwhelming presence of Charles Laughton as the villain, who comes across more hammy than dark and dangerous. It’s a death knell for a film in desperate need of something to give it an extra spark.

I did like the visceral energy in the scenes filmed on boats; it never felt like a soundstage, but a real unstable vessel on the verge of destruction. The opening few minutes, in particular, promise something more suspenseful and exciting than we ultimately get.

It’s not a waste of time, but I can’t say I’d recommend it (unless your spouse is intent on watching adaptations of Gothic novels like mine is).

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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