Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jamaica Inn

Title: Jamaica Inn
Year: 1939
Studio: Mayflower Pictures
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, John Harrison & J.B. Priestly
Source Material: The novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Running Time: 95 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 7th November, 8:30am
Oh, I woke up in a grump this morning, thanks to the persistence of my ever-hungry feline companion. I can't remember a time when I haven't been woken by Fizzgig. I do love her with all my heart, but she can be a demanding bitch at times. Alas.
I cannot deny that the thought of doing today's blog was not filling me with much joy as I am not overly fond of Jamaica Inn - I love the book, but the film leaves me a little cold... however more of that later.
Still, I made a brew and grabbed a mince pie (I hate Christmas seeping into months other than December, but I make an exception for yummy mince pies. I'd eat them all year around, frankly) and headed for Cornwall in the nineteenth Century...

Sir Humphrey Pengallan - Charles Laughton
His Butler, Chadwick - Horace Hodges
His Groom - Hay Petrie
His Agent - Frederick Piper
His Tenants - Herbart Lomas, Clare Greet & William Devlin
His friends - Jeanne de Casalis, Mabel Terry Lewis, Bromley Davenport, George Curzon & Basil Radford as Lord George

Joss Merlyn - Leslie Banks
Patience, his wife - Marie Ney
Mary, his niece - Maureen O'Hara
His gang:
Harry the Pedlar - Emlyn Williams
Salvation Watkins - Wylie Watson
Sea Lawyer Sydney - Morland Graham
Dandy - Edwin Greenwood
Thomas - Mervyn Johns
The Boy - Stephen Haggard
James "Jem" Trehearne - Robert Newton

"Oh Lord, we pray thee ~~
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
poor inhabitants."

So ran an old Cornish prayer of the early nineteenth century, but in that lawless corner of England, before the British Coastguard Service came into being, there existed gangs who, for the sake of plunder deliberately planned the wrecks, luring ships to their doom on the cruel rocks of the wild Cornish coast.

A ship is lured upon the deathtrap of rocks near a cove and Joss Merlyn and his gang of cut-throat smugglers seize the booty and murder all survivors of the shipwreck.
Meanwhile, a young Irish girl arrives by coach to Cornwall but the coachman is reluctant to stop at her destination. It appears that no one, other passengers included, want to be anywhere near the place. The coachman drops her off a few miles past and refuses to take her directly. Instead, she hikes over to the nearest building which happens to be the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the local Squire and Justice of the Peace.
Sir Humphrey is enamoured with the young traveller and offers to escort Mary and her luggage to Jamaica Inn.
Upon arrival, Mary meets her Aunt Patience but mistakes her Uncle for a servant and she is rather disgusted by him. Patience never received the letter Mary had sent explaining how her mother had died and she was coming to live with them, so it all comes as a bit of a shock.
In a separate room, Joss's gang of reprobates are enjoying their bawdy post-plunder shenanigans.
Joss finds the Squire upstairs and it becomes apparent from this secret rendezvous that Sir Humphrey is in fact in cahoots with Joss and is the man in charge of the wrecking!
Later, in the rooms below, it is suggested that there may be one amongst them who is not all he seems and is perhaps stealing more than their fair share from the others. It is assumed that it must be Jem Trehearne for he has been with them the longest - they even find some extra cash upon his person which they believe to be evidence enough. They plan to hang him and do so in a private back room. Mary witnesses all this through a crack in her room which spies down to the one below - once the gang leave Jem hanging by his neck, Mary is able to cut him down and save him. She helps him escape and the two have to run and hide.
They spend the night in a cave, but in the morning, their little boat has run adrift. The gang, who have been searching for them, spy the drifting boat and discover their location - as the gang attempt to reach them, the two swim for it and eventually make it back to Sir Humphrey's home, unaware of his dark dealings with Joss.
Sir Humphrey allows Mary to go upstairs to change and Jem makes it known to Sir Humphrey that he is in fact not a smuggler, but an undercover officer of the law. Sir Humphrey says he will get his friend Captain Boyle to look into it and bring along the cavalry.
Mary has come down all changed into a new outfit and she overhears the men talking - fearing for her Aunt's life, she dashes back to Jamaica Inn to warn her.

At the Inn, Mary has difficulty persuading her Aunt to leave and soon Sir Humphrey arrives with Jem. In a brief quiet moment, Sir Humphrey advises to Joss that the two of them should perhaps go away separately for a while due to the investigations.
The gang appear and apprehend Jem and Joss pretends to take the Squire hostage and the two men are bound to chairs with ropes, albeit loosely in Sir Humphrey's case, thanks to Joss...
Joss tells the gang that they will deal with their prisoners after that evening's wreck job. They take Mary with them and leave Humphrey and Jem tied up with Patience holding a gun over them. However, Humphrey, knowing Joss's intention, is aware there will be no bullets in the gun and climbs free of his ropes and heads away, leaving Jem bound and aghast at the betrayal.

Down at the beach, the gang have removed the warning beacon light from the cliff and await the ships demise. Mary sneaks off and tries to raise the lantern once more - she becomes embroiled in a fight with one of the men an in doing so, breaks the lamp which sets her fallen cloak alight - taking this opportunity, she hoists the burning garment up onto the post and manages to alert the ship to steer away.

The gang are appalled and are ready to kill her en masse like a pack of wolves, but Joss, showing a rare side of chivalry, takes his niece away on a cart - one of his men shoots out and Joss is hit...
At the inn, Jem has persuaded Patience to let him go and he rides off to get his military chums!
At Sir Humphrey's, the squire is all packed and tells his butler, Chadwick, that he is leaving for France for a while. Chadwick thinks his master is going mad.

Back at the Inn, Patience and Mary try to nurse Joss. Patience begins talking of moving away and starting a new life where she and Joss aren't known. She also begins to explain to Mary about who is in charge of all the wrecking, but before she gets to mention a name, she is shot and dies. Joss too loses his battle for life and slumps to Mary's feet. In the doorway stands Sir Humphrey Pengallan. He kidnaps her and whisks her off with him to be his concubine overseas.

As the two of them ride off to the port, the gang turn up at the inn to discover Joss and Patience's corpses. Jem and the military arrive and arrest the men and then head to Sir Humphrey's home where they learn about the Squire's destination from Chadwick.

Down at the port, Sir Humphrey feels he he finally safe from harm with his new woman by his side. However, Jem and the other officers arrive. Sir Humphrey holds Mary hostage but to no avail - he realises his time is almost up and climbs the rigging to a high mast - in one final act of delusion of grandeur, he commits suicide, plummeting to the deck below.

Jem takes Mary away to comfort her and poor Chadwick (who has come along with Lord George out of curiosity I presume) looks bewildered and forlorn.

The End

Great Lines
In an early scene, one of Joss's gang tells of his experiences with an Irish girl in a rather suggestive manner:

I knew a girl once, came from Ireland. Talk funny, she did, like a foreigner... but it was all right...

When Sir Humphrey introduces Jem to a couple of his friends including Lord George, there's a splendid delivery from the wonderful Basil Radford as Lord George:

Sir Humphrey: "...(he is) one of a gang of smugglers from Jamaica Inn!"
Lord George: "Smugglers, he? You got any good brandies through?"

Sir Humphrey's final words before killing himself before a gathering crowd are both grandiose and pompous but wonderfully note-worthy:

"What are you waiting for? A spectacle? You shall have it! Tell your children how the great age ended - make way for Pengallan!"

Well, here we are at another milestone in Hitchcock's oeuvre. His final picture in the UK (for a while, at least) before his huge career in Hollywood.
For fear of becoming one of those book snobs, I have to put aside my love of the original novel by Daphne Du Maurier and look at the film as a sole event, otherwise I'd be up in arms and whinging throughout (admittedly, even old Daphers herself was not best pleased - understandably!)

The opening sequence of the gang plundering the ship and murdering its crew is dramatic, vicious a very well-constructed with splendid use of models for the ships.
The moment one of the gang kills the one remaining survivor off screen and nonchalantly returns, whistling and wiping the dagger on his sleeve is pure macabre Hitchcock at his best.

Call it nit-picking if you will, but when Jem provides evidence of his status as lieutenant of the law, the paper is not even sodden despite being in his pocket whilst he swam ashore - and surely the gang could easily have discovered this, especially when they searched him for his wallet prior to attempting to lynch him!!

My favourite moment has to be when the gang are caught and one poor 17 year old lad (the actor actually looks about 39, but let's shed our disbelief for a moment) manically pleads for his life and the camera pans across the cool faces of the rest of the gang one by one as we hear the boy's prattling. It's startlingly effective and makes one reflect on the severity of their punishment and whether it's fitting considering their hateful crimes - ooh, it's so open to debate!!

My Verdict
It is fast paced and gritty where it needs to be, but I cannot help being let down by Charles Laughton's boisterous hamming up of the role of Sir Humphrey. I also kept getting distracted by his insane eyebrows.

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