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Western Morning News (25/Jan/1939) - Film Makers in Cornwall




"Jamaica Inn"


Mysterious Happenings On Desolate Moor

By a London Staff Reporter.

Production is well advanced on "Jamaica Inn," a story of the Cornish wreckers of 100 years ago and of mysterious happenings at a sinister inn on a desolate moor.

At the Elstree studios of the Mayflower Picture Corporation, Ltd., yesterday I saw Mr. Charles Laughton. Mr. Leslie Banks, and other leading British film stars making scenes for the film under the direction of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock.

In the spring the film will be completed when a production unit will go down to Cornwall to take Mr. Laughton in further exterior scenes

Mr. Tom Morahan, the art director, told me that he would have liked to "shoot" the greater part of the film in Cornwall, but for a variety of reasons this was not possible. Climatic conditions in this country, for for one thing, are too uncertain for outdoor film work.


Many Difficulties In The Way

Cornwall today, with telegraph poles, electric pylons, and motor traffic, to say nothing of concrete-block bungalows, does not provide the right setting for a period film. As Mr. Morahan's aim was, as he put it, "to get the spirit of Cornwall as it was 100 years ago on the screen," he had to resort to the film technician's tricks of the trade.

This involved several trips to Cornwall, when hundreds of photographs of Cornish architecture and scenery were taken; and extensive research, in the course of which' such books as "The story of Cornwall," "Cornish wrecks and wreckers." and "The history of the Falmouth packets" were invaluable.


One of Mr. Morahan's greatest difficulties was to find buildings which date back to about 1815 and which would fit in the story of the film. In this respect he regarded the old post office at Tintagel as one of his greatest finds, and he used much of the architectural details therein when constructing studio interiors of the Jamaica Inn.

Another obstacle he encountered was to discover a stretch of moorland road in an appropriate setting, but without a tarmacadam surface or telegraph poles, on which a coach scene could be taken. Eventually he found a rough track on Bodmin Moor, near Altarnun, which was ideal for his purpose.

The coach used for this particular scene is another example of the care taken by Mr. Morahan to ensure that more or less minor details are historically accurate. The vehicle, constructed by the studio carpenters, is a replica of the "Exeter Fly," as depicted in the paintings of T. Rolandson.


In the film a striking contrast is struck between the rough, tumble-down inn on the Moor and the luxuriously-appointed residence of the squire, played by Mr. Charles Laughton, who by day is the typical, wealthy country gentleman and by night the leader of the wreckers. His house, as shown in the film, is based on several residences in Cornwall, and by a coincidence has a close resemblance to one famous building in the county, which the father of Mr. Robert Newton — who has a prominent part in the film — was commissioned to paint shortly before it was burned down a few years ago.

Mevagissey, Looe, Polperro, Mousehole, and Falmouth, among other places, were closely studied by Mr. Morahan in his search for suitable backgrounds for scenes in the film.

The presence of modern buildings next to old ones precluded the use of all these subjects for backcloths, and so he returned with photographs of the best 19th century buildings and set to work to design composite representations of a Cornish seaport.


Thus, when those who are familiar with Cornwall see the film they will recognize the distinctive characteristics of a Cornish town, but for the reasons stated above will be unable to say, "Ah, that is the quayside at Falmouth or Mevagissey."

While in the studios I was shown the "sets" used in the making of the film. They include a huge cliff set before which a fight takes place between the wreckers and the preventive men, the panelled dining-room in the squire's house, and a gloomy cellar underneath the inn — in which the wreckers' loot is hidden. Outside more ambitious "lots" have been erected. The wreckers lure a West Indiaman on to the rocks, and one "lot" is a representation in wood, canvas, and plaster of the vessel plunging on the rocks


To obtain the effect of waves dashing over the stricken ship, huge wooden chutes have been built, down which water, pumped by the studio fire-engine, will gush on to the deck. Nearby is a stretch of rolling moorland, with a towering backcloth of stormy sky, which is based on an actual moorland scene photographed by Mr. Morahan in Cornwall.

To describe how models of ships and buildings are used in conjunction with mirrors against backgrounds of painted canvas and plaster to get life-like results would be unfair to Mr. Morahan and his fellow experts in trick photography, and incidentally it would be a shame to disillusion the film-loving public.

But having been behind the scenes to see how films are made, I shall make a point of seeing "Jamaica Inn" when it is released later this year to see if I can detect which scenes were taken in Cornwall and which in the studio, and those in which trick photography was employed.