Charles Laughton and 19-year-old Maureen O'Hara in Jamaica Inn (1939). The pair had kind of a creepy chemistry which worked to the advantage of this picture as well as The Hunchback of Notre Dame later that year.
Jamaica Inn feels almost as much like a Tod Browning movie as it does an Alfred Hitchcock film. It creates a dark mood, full of grotesque characters and swirling seas. To me the words "Jamaica Inn" conjure up a caribbean resort or perhaps a lair for pirates. The latter is close to truth, as the Inn is a dilapidated hotel on the stormy Cornish coast that is home to a band of ship wreckers-- cutthroats so nasty, each one is more bizarre and devilish than the last. In one scene a man is hung and two of the wreckers fight over the buckles on his shoes before he's even dead. Further adding to the piratical air of the film, is hero Jem Trehorne, portrayed by Robert Newton the patron saint of "Talk Like a Pirate Day" who is best remembered for his portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island.
When young Mary Yellen (O'Hara) goes to visit her aunt on the storm-torn coast of Cornwall, the stage drivers refuse to stop at the desolate Inn. She is dropped off instead at the estate of Sir Humphrey (Laughton) a lecherous old aristocrat who lives for lavish dinners and the occasional pretty face. We learn that Humprey's ancestors have all gone mad and Laughton gives us every indication that he's got his ticket to Happydale all but punched and ready to go.
The movie devolves into an extended chase when Mary rescues Newton's character, the 19th century equivalent of an undercover cop, from the wreckers. In one sequence the pair wind up stranded in a cave that gets cut off from the mainland by high tide. The romantic setting is reminiscent of Hitchcock's later travelogue films that made great use of location. Jamaica Inn isn't a great Hitchock film but it's quite a bit of fun and Laughton is always worth watching.
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