Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Jamaica Inn (1939) at the Pacific Design Center

I was honored to attend a very special screening last night hosted by Los Angeles television station KCET, BAFTA Los Angeles, and Cohen Film Classics.

The occasion was the screening of a restored print of Alfred Hitchcock's final British film, JAMAICA INN (1939), starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara.

The event took place at the Silver Screen Theater in the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. In a nice touch, an exhibit of Hitchcock photos provided by the Academy were on display in the theater lobby.

I attended along with several other bloggers, including (left to right), Karie, Kimberly, Danny, and Kim.

Below, Kim and Danny with Beth Ann:

Charles Cohen of KCET's Cohen Film Classics served as host, moderating a short pre-film discussion with actor Norman Lloyd (second from left) and two of Alfred Hitchcock's granddaughters, Katie Fiala (second from right) and Tere Carrubba (right):

The ladies related that time with their grandfather tended to focus more on family than his work. They were raised to be low-key and modest about their famous relative, with their mother Patricia emphasizing that while their grandfather did special work, other people's grandfathers did too...and besides, they said, their classmates were much more impressed by John Wayne's granddaughter!

I've had the privilege of hearing Norman Lloyd speak on a few occasions in recent years, and it's always a treat. He's now a remarkably spry 102, and it's rather amazing to contemplate all the legendary people he has worked with.

Lloyd related a couple favorite Hitchcock stories, such as how Alma Reville Hitchcock was the only one to spot Janet Leigh swallowing when she was supposed to be dead in a pre-release print of PYSCHO (1960) and how he fell off the Statue of Liberty in SABOTEUR (1942). He joked that he likes to say he "bounced back" from that!

Additional photos of the evening are available at the Getty photo site.

JAMAICA INN is something of an oddity among Hitchcock films, a fairly dark, ghoulish adventure film set along the coast of Cornwall. It might sound funny to say something ghoulish is atypical Hitchcock, but it's hard to think of any other Hitchcock film I've seen which has the same tone.

The screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Joan Harrison was based on the novel by Daphne DuMaurier. The following year another DuMaurier book, REBECCA, would provide the basis for Hitchcock's first American film, which incidentally won the Best Picture Oscar.

While JAMAICA INN was Hitchcock's last British film, it provided significant "firsts" for Maureen O'Hara; she had been recently discovered by star Charles Laughton, and it was her first starring role and her first film under the name Maureen O'Hara. Previously she had appeared in a pair of small roles as Maureen FitzSimons.

In JAMAICA INN O'Hara plays Mary Yellan, a recently orphaned Irish girl who arrives in Cornwall to stay with her Aunt Patience (Marie Ney) at the inn of the title.

Mary is immediately thrown into a tumultuous 48 hours or so, as her Uncle Joss (Leslie Banks) is the ringleader of a gang of murderous wreckers who meet at the inn. The men lure ships to their doom by removing warning beacons on the coastline, then kill the crews and steal the cargo.

Mary also discovers that nothing is quite as it first seems, whether it's Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton) being one of the gang of cutthroats or rich neighbor Sir Humphrey Pengalian (Laughton) being kindly and helpful.

Mary is quickly tossed from one bizarre incident to the next, as she rescues Jem from being hung in her uncle's basement (!), then must flee with him to avoid being killed herself. And that's only the start of a series of life-threatening adventures. It's quite a violent film for the era! Nothing is graphic, but the ease with which the gang kills is disturbing nonetheless.

While on the surface the story itself doesn't seem very "Hitchcock," the out-and-out sustained creepiness must be attributed to the master of suspense. I found the film lower-tier Hitchcock in the sense that I don't think it has much "rewatch" value due to its unpleasant story -- yet even "lesser" Hitchcock is well-crafted, compelling viewing.

O'Hara is the perfect choice for a nervy character who doesn't let fear stop her from putting her life on the line to do what she believes is right. She was a strong, striking film personality from the start of her career, and the camera loves her.

The supporting cast includes Mervyn Johns, Basil Radford, Emlyn Williams, Aubrey Mather, and Horace Hodges.

The movie was shot by Bernard Knowles and Harry Stradling (Sr.).

Over the years some ghastly prints of JAMAICA INN have been in circulation; I was once given a VHS tape which was so dark that after attempting to watch it I had to throw it away. Consequently I'd never seen the film until last night! This new print was a revelation, crisp and clear. What a treat to be able to see the film as it was meant to be seen.

JAMAICA INN is scheduled to be shown on KCET this Friday night, March 24th, as part of the Cohen Film Classics series.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Sounds like a most interesting evening, Laura. Seeing Norman Lloyd would be worth the price of admission alone!

I have most of Hitch's U.S.-made films in my collection and several of his British films too - though not "JAMAICA INN", which I have enjoyed but only up to a point. Perhaps seeing a beautiful print on the silver screen would convince me otherwise.

Incidentally, I have visited Jamaica Inn, near Bodmin Moor, several times since childhood. It used to sit alongside the A30 road, the main route into Cornwall, but the A30 is a wider road these days and the Inn has been somewhat sidelined. Fun place to visit though.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Great guests! Thanks for photos. I just remember Charles Laughton's over-acting.


11:01 AM  
Blogger muswell said...

"Jamaica Inn" was prodced by Mayflower , a company set up by Hitchcock and Laughton with a third partner called Max Setton. I believe the company only produced two other films both Laughton vehicles,"Vessel of Wrath" and "St Martins Lane" before Hollywood beckoned and the company lanquished. Setton went on to work as a producer for Columbia and Paramount in the UK;
Seen as a vehicle for Charles Laughton "Jamaica Inn' scores really well but is generally viewed as being somewhat outside the style associated with Hitchcock and poorer for it. Its staus as a public domain title which allowed sub par copies to circulate and harmed its reputation. But it still holds up well against the run of British films of the period, The shipwreck footage resurfaced as stock in "Fury at Smugglers Bay" a John Gilling film from 1961 despite being B&W in a colour film.Which speaks to the quality of the production.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi everyone! It's been a frenzied couple weeks since JAMAICA INN due to the Noir City Film Festival, but I wanted to thank you all very much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts! Always greatly appreciated!

Best wishes,

9:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Like you Laura, I had only "tried" to watch Jamaica Inn once . The print was so awful that I gave up. Plus what I could make out didn't seem that promising. However last night I watched an excellent print on youtube and what a surprise! From the brutal opening of the ship wrecked passengers to the creepy ending where it's strongly apparent that Laughton means to keep O'Hara as his sex slave, the film doesn't let up in intensity. The threat of violence is always ready to erupt. O'Hara is great as you mentioned , as is the entire cast . Laughton here gives an incredible performance that is right up there with his Captain Bligh. Among his very best.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on JAMAICA INN! I'm so glad you also had the chance to see the film as it was meant to be seen, in a good print.

Best wishes,

11:29 PM  

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