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Yorkshire Post (10/May/1939) - Jamaica Inn



Jamaica Inn


Miss Daphne du Maurier's "Jamaica Inn" is Mr. Charles Laughton's latest vehicle — a capacious omnibus, actually, for other celebrated passengers are Leslie Banks, Emlyn Williams, Marie Ney, Robert Newton, J.B. Priestley (additional dialogue), and Alfred Hitchcock (director), while a new leading lady comes to the screen in Maureen O'Hara.

I had looked forward to Laughton's portrayal of the smooth-tongued scoundrel, Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the Moriarty of a murderous gang of Cornish coast wreckers; it seemed that the smuggling atmosphere of a century ago was sufficiently rich in sinister incidents to make for cinema excitement.

That Mr. Hitchcock should be directing the picture gave promise of novel treatment. Yet Mr. Hitchcock's technique, usually so refreshing even though he does not always take care to conceal the improbabilities in the story, never once came through in "Jamaica Inn." Perhaps he was worried by the historical setting — his speciality is modern times — but. oddly enough, there was none of that suspense which he can so expertly create. The film passed from shipwreck to smugglers' inn, from squire's mansion back, via smuggler's inn, to the storm-lashed coast and a final night chase along the moonlit turnpike road.

Here, in fact, were all the right ingredients. Yet somehow one didn't care a hoot what happened — and I think the reason, partly, was that not one of the characters was ever firmly planted as a real person: Mr. Laughton's make-up was singularly grotesque, and I felt that behind it were not even the brains to direct one common smuggler, let alone a dozen.

It was understood that Sir Humphrey came of tainted stock, and that insanity would gradually present itself. And so it did — but not in that eerie, horrifying manner which lies well within Mr. Laughton's range. Throughout he remained a merely ridiculous figure — even, his eventual suicide was rather absurd and provoked only titters.

Mr. Leslie Banks, as chief smuggler, blundered around and looked suitably dangerous; poor Miss Ney just suffered; Mr Robert Newton was a resourceful preventive officer, but in his dealings with Miss O'Hara spelt romance with a very small "r." Miss O'Hara herself is sweet and pretty — but aren't they all?

Most of the film has been shot in dim interiors — or else in shocking bad weather (with none of the grandeur of bad weather). This also contributed to the general gloom. I don't think the sun shone once "Jamaica Inn" opens at the Regal, Marble Arch, next Friday.

F. A. R.