|Year Released||1939||Commentary Tracks||None|
|Running Time||90:21 minutes||Other Extras||Introduction - Tony Curtis
Theatrical Trailer - The Birds
|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||
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
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.
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.
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.
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.
© Ian Morris (have a
laugh, check out the bio)
29th May 2000
|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|