Watching 1939: Jamaica Inn (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

jam inn1939 film:
Jamaica Inn (1939)

Release date:
May 12, 1939

Charles Laughton, Robert Newton, Maureen O’Hara, Leslie Banks, Marie Ney, Emlyn Williams

Production company: Mayflower Pictures Corp.
Distribution company: Paramount Pictures

Alfred Hitchcock

With both of her parents dead, Mary Yellan (O’Hara) travels to a coastal Cornish village to live with her aunt (Ney) who lives at Jamaica Inn. When Mary arrives, she realizes that her uncle (Banks) is involved in a group of criminals who cause ships to wreck so they can can rob them. Mary rescues Jem Trehearne (Newton) and she turns to the town squire Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Laughton) for help. This may or may not be a good idea.

1939 Notes:
• Alfred Hitchcock’s last British film before leaving to the United States.
• Maureen O’Hara’s third film and the first film where she plays under the name “Maureen O’Hara.”
• Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton were in two films together in 199.
• By the numbers:
– Alfred Hitchcock’s only film of 1939.
– Maureen O’Hara was in two films released in 1939.
– Robert Newton was in four films released in 1939.
– Charles Laughton was in two films released in 1939.
– Leslie Banks was in three feature-length films released in 1939.

jamaica 3

Other trivia:
• Adapted from the 1936 novel “Jamaica Inn” by Daphne du Maurier. This was the first of three du Maurier film adaptations by Alfred Hitchcock. The others were “Rebecca” and “The Birds.”
• Released in the UK May 12, 1939, and in the U.S. in Oct. 11, 1939.
• The film differs from the book. Laughton’s character was changed from a minister to a squire, due to the Motion Picture Production Code, according to Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography.
• The film was acquired by the Cohen Media Group in 2013 and, with the British Film Institute (BFI), was underwent a 4K digital restoration based on the BFI’s nitrate print of the film.
• Some prints of this film are missing 8 minutes, after film collector Raymond Rohauer altered the film slightly.
• Charles Laughton based his walk in the film on the beat of a little German waltz, according to a discussion Hitchcock had with French director François Truffaut.

jamaica inn4

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Before moving to Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock directed one more film in England in 1939. And he later said he wished it hadn’t been his departing picture.

“I would have preferred to have vanished after Lady Vanishes (1938),” Hitchcock said in an interview.

The film was “Jamaica Inn” (1939), and while Hitchcock was not particularly fond of it, the film was important for one of its stars: Maureen O’Hara.

O’Hara co-stars with Charles Laughton, Leslie Banks and Robert Newton in this period piece. Set in 1819, the film follows a young woman, Mary, (O’Hara) who visits her aunt. Her uncle by marriage is a cutthroat criminal who directs incoming ships to crash into the rocky coast. Then, he and a band of criminals rob the ship. When Mary saves one of the criminals from a hanging, she becomes a target, as well as Jem (Newton), the man she helps. Mary doesn’t realize that her uncle is not the decision maker of this group and someone with more power living in the village is calling the shots.

“Jamaica Inn” is sometimes erroneously called Maureen O’Hara’s first film. In fact, she was in two films prior to this in 1938, acting under her real name, Maureen FitzSimons. However, “Jamaica Inn” was the first leading role for O’Hara and her first film that would also be seen by United States audiences.

After the film came out, one review dubbed O’Hara “the Girl with Black Cherry Eyes.” They also said the film was more of a Charles Laughton film than an Alfred Hitchcock film, noting that Daphne Du Maurier’s novel was heavily adapted for screen. Du Maurier was not pleased with the film.

While I can’t say that this film ranks high on my Hitchcock favorites (“Shadow of a Doubt,” Foreign Correspondent” and “Lady Vanishes” if you are curious), it is a fun film for October. With it’s coastal setting, it’s dark, windy and mysterious.

It is also significant for the year of 1939. It marked a departure in one part of Hitchcock’s career as he left England and sent Maureen O’Hara towards fame.

It is overall an intriguing, swashbuckling tale and it has quite and ending.

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