Jamaica Inn

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1939 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 90:21 minutes Other Extras Introduction - Tony Curtis
Theatrical Trailer - The Birds
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Alfred Hitchcock
Mayflower Pictures
MRA Entertainment
Starring Charles Laughton
Leslie Banks
Maureen O'Hara
Emlyn Williams
Robert Newton
Marie Ney
Wylie Watson
Horace Hodges
Case Amaray
RRP $19.95 Music Eric Fenby

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio No Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles Spanish
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    In the annals of the Alfred Hitchcock legacy, this effort would not rank too highly as a film alone except for a couple of points. Firstly, Jamaica Inn was the last of Hitch's British films, before he headed off to Hollywood, and as such is something of a punctuation mark in his career. A lot of what happened after this film, starting with the magnificent Rebecca, really turned Hitch into the icon that he is today. Secondly, the film pretty much marked the arrival of the wonderful Maureen O'Hara in film. Whilst it is not her debut, as she had a couple of bit parts in earlier films, it is certainly her first big break as a lead actress and launched her into stardom. Thirdly, it stars that great British actor in Charles Laughton and it is always a delight to return to his performance as Sir Humphrey Pengallan. In his own right Laughton is as much an icon as Hitch and this really is one of his finest moments in film in my view.

    Whilst many have tried, few have succeeded as well as Alfred Hitchcock in taking something wonderfully simple in terms of a story and making it bigger than it really should be. Whilst this is not really great Hitchcock, the formula nonetheless remains the same as this is a remarkably simple story with a few twists thrown in for good measure in true Hitchcockian style. Set in the early 1800s on the treacherous coast of Cornwall in England, this is the story of the then-thriving industry of wrecking. In concept it is simple enough: the local wreckers douse the beacon light in order to give passing ships no reference as to the location of the shoreline, upon which the ships are duly wrecked. Jamaica Inn is the home of one such wrecking gang led by Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks), and as such has a fearsome reputation as a place where evil deeds are done. So much so that when the beautiful Irish colleen Mary Yelland (Maureen O'Hara) arrives by coach, the coach-master drops her off way past the inn itself. This requires her to seek aid from the nearest house, which happens to be the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton). Immediately taken by her beauty Sir Humphrey volunteers his latest prize horse and his own services in order to reach Jamaica Inn, where Mary is reunited with her Uncle Joss and Aunt Patience (Marie Ney). Unbeknownst to Mary though is the fact that Joss is the local wrecking gang leader, and Sir Humphrey is the mastermind behind the gang. Mary settles in, but in the rooms of the inn things are afoot - in the form of the hanging of Jim Trehearne (Robert Newton), who is believed to be skimming some of the gang's loot for himself. Left to hang from a beam below Mary's bedroom, Jim is saved from death by Mary who cuts him down and aids his escape - eventually to Sir Humphrey's manor, whereupon the true nature of Jim Trehearne is revealed, necessitating some fancy work by Sir Humphrey, who also happens to be the local justice! So on the one hand we have Sir Humphrey trying to uphold the law whilst on the other plotting the next wreck for Joss' band - as he really needs the money. Naturally the good guy wins and the bad guy loses, but along the way we have a couple of twists, that whilst not as pronounced as those in Hitchcock's later films are certainly characteristic of the master's style.

    Some would argue that this is not amongst Alfred Hitchcock's better efforts, and it is certainly a little patchy at times, but I suspect that this is more to do with the fact that it has probably been flogged to death on television matinee and familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes. The real standout here though is Charles Laughton who is so utterly convincing as the slightly mad lord that you are almost convinced that Laughton is Sir Humphrey! Laughton gives a superb performance that defines the character perfectly. It is not often that Hitch was forced to play second fiddle to an actor, but that is certainly the case here. Adding to the pleasure is the performance of the young Maureen O'Hara, a little underdone perhaps but giving plenty of clues to what success she would shortly achieve.

    Whilst the film is definitely showing its age nowadays, there is generally always something to be gleaned from watching an Alfred Hitchcock film and in that respect it is once again pleasing to see the return of this film to home video. In this case though, you would have to be a real devotee, believe me. Some of the effects work here is extraordinarily unbelievable and just about every scene involving the sea lacks any kind of believability whatsoever.

Transfer Quality


    Sixty one years on, and this transfer is showing every one of those years quite badly. Note that it is an NTSC format disc and can only be viewed on display devices capable of playing the NTSC signal.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format.

    Think of all the things that you hate about old black and white transfers and they will be here in abundance. The whole thing runs along the line of being murky greys as opposed to real black and white - although there are a couple of patches where the blacks are really solid, just to annoy the heck out of you. Overall, this is a pretty poor transfer, with some at times quite woeful definition: indeed at times this is so bad that diffuse is a far too kind a description for it. This is definitely not "digitally mastered from the best available sources for the highest quality possible", and this clearly has had no restoration work of any kind performed on it. The definition is so bad that I almost wonder whether it was actually mastered from a video tape. If this is the best available source then I really do not want to see any earlier films at all. There is a distinct lack of detail in the transfer, and this really does appear one dimensional for most of its length. The transfer is anything but clear in general. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The grey tones are very inconsistent, sometimes almost becoming distinctly black and white but at others being very, very murky greys. If you need to have depth to the blacks in black and white films, you will be really badly disappointed here. Apart from a few sequences where things are mysteriously better, you have such an overwhelmingly dull grey on offer that the effort required to watch the film is worsened.

   There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer, but the transfer is pretty bad so they might be well hidden by assorted other problems. Film-to-video artefacts were also apparently absent, however this is riddled from start to finish with some extraordinarily bad film artefacts, and at times this really was quite unwatchable. Whilst appreciating that the film is sixty-one years old, this is so riddled with artefacts and assorted other transfer problems that it ranks as the worst effort I have seen for a film of its generation.

   Whilst the disc appears to be a straight forward single layer, single sided disc (lacking the distinctive gold colour of a dual layer disc), at 51:55 the player goes into search mode as if there is a layer change. Whatever it is, it is extremely distracting as it occurs right in the middle of a scene where Sir Humphrey is walking, so he suddenly freezes for a short while before resuming his walking. I think the word I am looking for is abysmal.

   The Internet Movie Database lists the running time for this film as 98 minutes in the United States. Since this release is from the United States, it would seem logical that we would have exactly the length as that listed for the USA. Since we do not, and by some margin, I am rather suspecting that the various jumps in the editing of the film are the result of portions of extreme damage having been excised from the film.


   Matching the appalling video transfer is an equally appalling mono English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This is the only soundtrack on the disc and I almost wish it was not present either.

   The dialogue was very marginal at times and extremely difficult to understand.

   There did not appear to be any really significant audio sync problems.

   The musical score is credited to Eric Fenby, a name that most would not recognize I suspect. However, devotees of the music of Frederick Delius will recognize the name. Delius became paralysed and blind in 1924 but with the aid of Eric Fenby continued to compose virtually up to his death in 1934. Eric Fenby should have stuck to working on the music of Delius based upon this rather undistinguished effort.

   What can one say about this effort? The words that immediately spring to mind are of the ilk of garbage, rubbish, manure and so on. I take it you get my drift here? This is an appalling soundtrack, filled with fade outs, drop outs, static and distortion. The vocals are so recessed in the overall mix that they sound extremely congested and very unnatural. The variability in the dialogue level is astounding and I seemed to be forever turning the volume up in order to hear what was being said. Whilst recognizing that the source material is sixty-one years old, I really would have thought that it would be a lot better than what we have here. Indeed, this is so bad that it is probably best to watch this one through your television speakers, as they may actually make this sound better than what it is. Obviously there is no surround action nor bass action at all.


    And just to keep the overall standard low, we have a rather impoverished extras package.


Introduction - Tony Curtis (3:02)

    This is another recently recorded introduction from someone who I am still battling to understand would have any connection with Alfred Hitchcock. Furthermore it gives the distinct impression of being recorded when he was half drunk. It adds absolutely nothing to the overall package whatsoever. The regrettable thing is that he pops up again at the end of the film, too. This is presented in a full frame format, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Theatrical Trailer - The Birds (5:21)

    Whilst this is one of the more unique trailers that you will ever see, done in a wonderfully sarcastic and caustic manner by Alfred Hitchcock himself, I have absolutely no idea what it has to do with the subject film, nor the period of the film (given that The Birds is one of Hitch's late films from 1963). Naturally, it is presented in a full frame format, not 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound.

R4 vs R1

    This is identical to the version available in Region 1.


    Whilst the film is sixty-one years old, and therefore we cannot expect anything remotely close to a pristine print, this really is so bad that it goes straight into the Hall of Shame. Enough said. If you can find a second-hand VHS tape, and want the film desperately enough, grab it. You cannot do much worse than what this is and it would have to be miles cheaper. Hopefully some one will one day undertake some restoration work on the film - wait until that DVD comes out.

    Bad source material cannot be made into a silk purse. A very poor video transfer.

    A shockingly poor audio transfer.

    An extras package of no great merit.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
29th May 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL