That place – Jamaica Inn. It’s got a bad name. It’s not healthy, that’s why. There’s queer things goes on there.
Alfred Hitchcock, practically everyone knows the King of Suspense.
But while most know the films The Birds; Psycho, Vertigo, etc: a lot of his earlier films are ignored. So while these may not be everyone’s favorite, these are films I love and enjoy.
Jamaica Inn was the last film Alfred Hitchcock made in the U.K., with him moving to the United States after this picture was completed. While it is not considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, most people hate it even going as far to state it as his worst, I like it so I’m going to review it.
So the film is based on the historical fiction novel of the same name, written by Daphne du Marier (the same woman who wrote The Birds and Rebecca). Both she and Alfred Hitchcock were very displeased with the end result. Now why did this movie have so many problems? Charles Laughton.
Now don’t get me wrong. He is a great actor, I mean look at his filmography. However, as he produced this he was able to call a lot of the shots, therefore not allowing Hitchcock to work his usual magic. Laughton changed the character chosen for him, forced Hitchcock to hire Maureen O’Hara, made Hitchcock reveal a twist earlier than planned, etc. It’s hard when someone usurps the director’s power.
Anyways, I’m going to review, because I like it.
Now before we get into the review, let’s have a brief history lesson.
This film takes place in the 1820 and involves a ship wrecking gang. Wrecking was a major economy booster and began as early as the 14th century, ending in the 20th century. Certain areas, such as Cromwell where this film takes place, gangs would cause ships to crash into the rocky shoreline, by either creating false lights or putting out the usual ones.
When the ships crashed, the gangs would then salvage the cargo, sell it, and kill the sailors to hide their crimes. It wasn’t until 1870, that rescuing the sailors brought in a reward.
In order to hide these activities, the wreckers would spread stories about ghost, phantoms, or other supernatural beings existing in the area.
Jamaica Inn is also based on a real inn and pub. It was known for its smugglers, pirates, and ghost stories.
So this film starts out with something a bit unusual, a prayer.
“O Lord we pray the–
not that wrecks should happen,
but that if they do happen
Thou wilt guide them–
to the coast of Cornwall,
for the benefit of the
This real prayer for the 19th century shows how prevalent, wrecking/salvaging was.
So the film starts out with the pirates (as they technically are as they are robbing/plundering ships) putting out the lights at Cromwell’s shore during a huge storm, causing them to crash. The crew go out and salvage everything, leaving no sailor alive.
The leader of this group is Joss Merlyn, also owner of Jamaica Inn. He picks the ships, sells the goods, divvies up the profits, and makes sure every man follows his orders. He’s not looking to head for the gallows.
Meanwhile, Mary Yellen is traveling from Ireland to Jamaica Inn.
Mary is played by Maureen O’Hara, in her first big role. She’s heading to Jamaica Inn to be with her Aunt Patience as her parents died and she has no where else to go. She’s heading in a cab, when suddenly it starts moving extremely fast and passes Jamaica Inn.
She tries to get him to stop, but he refuses to listen. He’s afraid of Jamaica Inn, as he’s heard stories of ghosts, pirates, thieves, and worse. Instead he overshoots it by miles, dropping her off in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.
Geez, how rude. I mean just living a women stranded in the middle of nowhere in the dark?
Luckily, she isn’t too far from the Squire’s house, Sir Humphrey. She decides to head down there for help.
Meanwhile, Sir Humphrey is having a big dinner and fancy party for him and his friends.
Now the Squire loves beautiful things. He’ll spend tons of money on a figurine, a horse, etc. Some of the ladies at the tale are interested in landing him, but they aren’t young or pretty enough for him.
Mary comes in from the cold and demands to see the Squire for help. Sir Humphrey is annoyed/intrigued at the intrusion sand makes a bet the girl will be ugly. However, when he sees her, he is stunned at her beauty.
He then tells her to remove her coat:
I’d be like “heck no!” I’m leaving my clothes on.
But, she agrees, and he says she looks stunning. That over and done with, she asks him for help to the Inn. Sir Humphrey doesn’t want her to go, as the inn is full of ruffians, no place for a pretty, young girl. He would rather she stay with him.
Mary thanks him, but insists on going to the inn to be with her aunt Patience. Sir Humphrey agrees to help, and takes her to the inn.
When they arrive, Joss is creepily staring through the window at Mary.
She knocks at the door and when he opens it, he sticks a gun in her face.
Mary quickly tells him who she is, and then Joss tries to flirt with her, asking for a kiss.
Mary starts yelling at him and telling him to watch out, her uncle won’t stand for such rude treatment.
The jerk just laughs, and reveals he is her uncle.
Luckily, Patience comes out and stops his attentions for the moment. Mary is shocked when she sees Patience, she used to be so beautiful, but now is a tired, pale, weary, slip of a thing.
You can tell by her pinched face that she is emotionally and physically abused by her husband.
Patience is happy to see her, but surprised. Apparently, they never received Mary’s letter telling of her parents death. They bring her in, with Joss making poor Patience carry the whole trunk. Mary goes to help, but Joss says no as he would hate to ruin a lady’s beautiful hands.
How could he flirt like that in front of his wife? To her own niece?
Mary has a fiery temper and yells at him. In return he picks up her trunk and throws it up the stairs, proving his strength. A true test of wills.
Downstairs the crew are laughing and being rowdy, Joss having Patience take Mary into the kitchen so that she won’t find out what’s going on.
When Harry, Joss’ right hand man, hears of a pretty lady, he tries to go see her and put the moves on her.
But Joss tells everyone that Mary is hands off, only for him. I mean to his wife’s niece? What a jerk and mega creep.
Back in the kitchen Mary and Patience are talking. Mary wants Patience to leave Joss, but she won’t. She ran away from him because she loved him, and even though he beats her, she still “loves” him. In reality, she has come to believe she deserves the beating, stuck in that cycle of abuse.
So back with the pirates. A recent addition to the team, Jem Trehearne, has been starting a ruckus with the men.
He believes there is a lot more going on then Joss is saying. He’s been keeping on eye on the merchandise ands how much they’ve received back and it is not adding up right. There is some that is being funneled elsewhere. Jem is also smart enough to realize there is no way Joss could fence these items on his own, there must be someone helping him. But who?
Joss sees how unsettled everyone is, and turns the suspicions back onto the crew; telling the group how easy it could be for one of them to take the product and waylay it, selling it later and keeping the profits. Now we have a witchunt, wtith everyone questioning each other.
He starts questioning how long each has been with him, coming up to Jem who has only been a part of the group for two months. Jem tries to turn it back to Joss and his mystery partner, but all have turned against him.
They seize Jem and search his pockets, finding gold. That settles it, he must hang.
Before they can get started, Patience interrupts. She never would do such a thing, except Mary has just told her the Squire, Sir Humphrey, gave her a lift to the inn. She’s worried that him being there, he might have seen something.
He tells Patience to take Mary up to her room to finish dinner, let’s Harry take care of Jem, and then heads upstairs to a locked room.
And in there is the squire.
It turns out that Jem was right all along, there is someone else in charge, the squire.
This was an area of the film Hitchcock strongly disagreed with. He wanted to wait until the very end to do one of his famous reveals, us finding out that the Squire, supposed good guy was the real villain. But Laughton was a big star and he wanted more screen time, and as he was also producing the film, what he said went. It is interesting to see Hitchcock as he is starting out and then later on, when his word was the law. Even when it drove his actress crazy, like Tippi Hedren in The Birds.
Anyways, yes the real criminal mastermind is indeed the Squire, Sir Humphrey.
Don’t let that pompous act fool you. He wines and dines the captains, finding out when ships carrying valuables are coming, sending word to Joss, who then gets the group out there to take care of it. Joss turns the goods over to the Squire, who sells the product taking a hefty cut, and giving the rest to be doled out the crewman. In some ways, this is very similar to Michael Crichton’s book Pirate Latitudes.
So Sir Humphrey is not happy with what he has, he thinks he deserves more.
Joss disagrees, warning him about the unruly crewman who think they are being created. They were lucky that Jem was a perfect scapegoat, but what if next time they men turn on him?
Squire tells him it doesn’t matter, and he better deal with the problem. They need to refocus as a new ship is coming in tomorrow night with lots of valuables.
Joss tells Sir Humphrey about Mary, and that he will remove her from the equation. Sir Humphrey disagrees, as he wants Mary to stay, that is until he’s had her.
Meanwhile, Jem has been knocked out and tied up. The crew are looking for the right beam to hang him, unknowingly choosing the exact one that lies under Mary’s room.
She overhears them talking about killing Jem, and watches them through a knothole, as they tie him up to the beam. One of the men, Dandy, really likes Jem’s buckles. Instead of waiting to play dice for them, Dandy grabs them and runs off, causing the others to chase him.
With them out of the way, Mary takes her knife and starts sawing through the rope, trying to free Jem. After he drops to the ground, she sneaks out of her room and completes untying him. She wakes him up, and he tries to get her to come with him, but she has to stay for her aunt.
However, they quickly discover Jem is gone. Patience figures out that it is Mary.
and tells her to run. She takes off but soon finds herself about to be caught, when Jem pulls her onto the roof.
How sweet, he couldn’t leave her behind to face everything on her own.
The two take off for the shore, Jem saying he knows a place they’ll be able to hide for a while.
Joss figures out who let Jem out, and sends everyone in teams to find them and kill them. He then goes to see the Squire to warn him.
Back at the squire’s home, we discover that he isn’t as rich as he’s been pretending to be.
I also suspect that he suffers from being bipolar or some other disease. They way he switches so quickly from anger to joyful, there’s something disconnected up there.
It turns out that his Butler is also starting to question what’s going on with the squire, as madness runs in his family.
Joss goes to him worried about what might happen with Jem and Mary, who they will tell. Sir Humphrey tells him to calm down as he is the only justice of the peace in the area. He kicks Joss out and tells him to focus on the ship wrecking.
He continues to yell at Joss, and also tells him to leave Mary alone. That girl is his.
The next day, Mary wakes up in the arms of Jem.
She is suddenly freaked out as the realization of her choices hits her. She betrayed her family to save a man she doesn’t even know, a thief and pirate. She can never return to her Aunt’s home, all family is lost to her, and all she has is a pirate who could be cruel to her or hurt her.
She tries to sneak away, and steal the boat, but wakes Jem up, who is hurt at her not trusting him. I mean after all that you think they would have a bond.
Jem Trehearne: That’s women for you – save your life one minute, frightened of you the next. I guess I’m not a very pretty sight at the moment, but I don’t bite, you know.
While the two are arguing, the boat slips away and they are now stuck in a cave, and high tide will be upon them soon enough.
So now they are stuck. And in this scene we have some of the best banter. Jem is totally trying to make light of the situation. Mary, on the other hand, is angry at herself and the fact that everything is going wrong.
Jem Trehearne: Trust me to land myself with a woman. ‘Course, you did save my life.
Mary Yellen: I hope you make better use of it in the future.
Jem Trehearne: That’s a tall order for a desperate character like me.
Mary Yellen: No doubt.
Jem Trehearne: Smuggler and a cutthroat; that gives it.
Mary Yellen: Very likely.
Jem Trehearne: Do you think there’s any hope for me? Tell me, what all am I to do?
Mary Yellen: Anything you please.
Jem Trehearne: Well, I used to be a sailor. I can go back to sea.
Mary Yellen: I’m not in the least interested.
Jem Trehearne: You must be. Don’t forget you’re responsible for me.
Mary Yellen: I am not.
Jem Trehearne: Oh, yes. If weren’t for you I shouldn’t be here at all. You can’t deny that. When we’re safe in Trulo I’ll place myself entirely in your hands.
Mary Yellen: Oh, please be quiet.
I like Jem. I think he is sweet, funny, and pretty adorable while at the same time being a man of action, and having some honor. I wonder how he got mixed up with thieves?
So while they are talking, they fail to realize that their lost boat has just given away their position. Harry and two other crew members, realize they are in the cave and throw down a rope, inviting them up. They’re trapped. Either they wait in the cave and drown when the high tide comes in. Or they are saved and killed by the pirates.
But Jem won’t give up. He decides to instead have him and Mary swim to shore. They have a better chance of surviving the stormy sea, then staying in the cave where the men will let them drown or hang them.
They make it to shore, and Jem wants to go to town. Mary changes his mind, by pointing out the Squire’s mansion is so much closer.
When they get to the house, they interrupt a dinner with a captain.
The two come in soaked and telling the squire about what’s going on. Mary is sent upstairs to change into dry things, stopping to ask the squire for clemency for Jem, while Jem is regulated in front of the fire as he is not important. Go ahead and freeze to death or catch the flu and die, you’re not important.
But Jem will not be regulated to the side. He insists on speaking to the squire NOW. In fact he has something very important to show Sir Humphrey.
Yep Jem is not really a thief, he’s actual a cop and was just undercover trying to bust a ship wrecking ring. Before Sir Humphrey was just going to get rid of him or lock him up, but know that he is a cop with real officers knowing who he is and where he went. It’s time to change the game.
Mary overhears and runs over to the Inn to warn Patience, and try and get her to leave, but she won’t go. Soon Jem and Sir Humphrey arrive, Sir Humphrey playing along with Jem; as Jem deduces the how, where, and why of the whole situation. He just needs to figure out who the head man is.
He tries to persuade Joss to tell. This man is a tyrant that must be brought to justice!
Jem Trehearne: He [the head of the operation] remains aloof content to hire the scum of the coast to do his murderous work for him, thinking there’s no blood on his hands, but there is.
Jem leaves Joss with Sir Humphrey, as he goes to move the women upstairs. While he is gone Sir Humphrey warns Joss that tonight will have to be the last one, it would be best for both to take a little vacation. Then he hands over his gun.
Now think how much more awesome this scene would have been if this was the first time we realized that the Squire was the man they were working for. Hitchcock relly got gypped there. Oh, well.
So the men have heard Jem, and without Sir Humphrey as back up, the two are quickly captured and tied up.
Joss puts Patience on guard with a gun, while asking Mary along, just in case she had the urge to free Jem again.
Jem puts on a brave face and tries to convince Patience that if she gives up the location of her husband, then it will help him serve less time. Patiene refuses.
Sir Humphrey doesn’t even bother talking, getting out of the unknotted knots Joss tied on him and walking right out. After all, he has a ship to catch.
Jem is embarrassed and angry he could be tricked so easily, but continues to try to get Patience to set him free. But Patience says no, she loves Jem.
Eventually something must have worked on her, as the next scene we see Jem free and out to get help.
Meanwhile Mary is out with the crewman. They put the beacon out and wait, but while all are preoccupied, Mary runs out to fix the beacon. She gets in a fight with one of the men, accidentally breaking the beacon and setting her cape on fire. She hangs that up and saves the ship.
The salvagers are very angry!
They grab her and start tearing at her clothes, making threats about what they will do. Joss comes into save her, but gets shot by Harry.
Mary manages to get his body to the inn. There Patience is heartbroken and tries to warn Mary that Joss wasn’t the real leader, there is someone worse, when she is shot!
Sir Humphrey shot her as he didn’t want her warning Mary about him. He then goes and ties her up, giving her a hooded cape to hide it, and takes her with him in his carriage.
So Sir Humprey has completely succumbed to the insanity that runs in his family.
Jem is not too far behind the two, being able to get the regimental captain that was dining with Sir Humphrey earlier to use his troops to stop the men. They round up the ship wreckers and find the bodies of Joss and Patience. They set out to follow Humphrey’s trail.
At the ship, Sir Humphrey throws Mary inside a cabin. Telling her that she may have wanted to marry some normal, man and have a litter of kids, but that’s not what she should have. She should have the finer things with him.
Sir Humphrey: Good thing you have a man of sensibility, who’d rather see you dead first.
Before Sir Humphrey can make good on his threats, the regiment arrives. He tries to take Mary as a hostage, but they are prepared to shoot any part of his body they can. In order to escape he climbs up the sails of the ship, choosing to jump off and commit suicide then be taken alive.
Mary is shaken over everything, with Jem taking her and comforting her.
So was it as amazing as his later work? No. Was it still a good movie? Yes. I thought it was interesting, fun, a tad campy, but still entertaining.
To start Horrorfest IV from the beginning, go to You Cannot Conquer It. It Has Conquered You!: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
For the previous post, go to The Story. We’re Living It. It’s Alive: The Brothers Grimm (2005)
For more on Alfred Hitchcock, go to The Perfect Murder: Dial “M” for Murder (1954)
For more films based on a book, go to What Have We Done to Each Other?: Gone Girl (2014)
For more on Maureen O’Hara, go to At the End of the Rainbow: 17 More Irish Heroes