Jamaica Inn is a 1939 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel of the same name, the first of three of du Maurier’s works that Hitchcock adapted (the others were her novel Rebecca and short story “The Birds”). It stars Charles Laughton and features Maureen O’Hara in her first major screen role. It is the last film Hitchcock made in the United Kingdom before he moved to the United States.
The film is a period piece set in Cornwall in 1819, in the real Jamaica Inn (which still exists), as a pub on the edge of Bodmin Moor. The score was written by Eric Fenby.
It features Maureen O’Hara’s first leading role.
The film is set in 1820 (at the start of the reign of King George IV [reign: 1820-1830], as mentioned by Pengallan in his first scene).
Over and above its function as a hostelry, Jamaica Inn houses the clandestine rural headquarters of a gang of cutthroats and thieves, led by innkeeper Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks). They have become wreckers. They are responsible for a series of engineered shipwrecks in which they extinguish coastal warning beacons, causing ships to run aground on the rocky Cornish coast. They then kill the surviving sailors and steal their cargo.
One evening, a young Irish-woman, Mary Yellan (Maureen O’Hara), is dropped off by coach near the inn, at the home of the local squire and justice of the peace, Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton). She requests the loan of a horse so she can ride to Jamaica Inn to re-unite with her Aunt Patience (the wife of Joss Merlyn). Despite Pengallan’s warnings, she intends to live at Jamaica Inn with her late mother’s sister. Shortly afterwards, we learn that Pengallan is the secret criminal mastermind behind the wrecking gang; he learns from his well-to-do friends and acquaintances when well-laden ships are passing near the coast, determines when and where the wrecks are to be caused, and fences the stolen cargo. He uses the lion’s share of the proceeds to support his lavish lifestyle and passes a small fraction of them to Joss and the gang.
In another part of the inn, the gang convenes to discuss why they get so little money for their efforts. They suspect Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton), a gang member for only two months, of embezzling goods. They hang him from one of the rafters of the inn, but when they leave, Mary cuts the rope and saves his life. Trehearne and Mary flee the gang, narrowly avoiding capture by swimming for their lives. The next morning, they row a boat ashore to seek the protection of Pengallan, unaware that he is the gang’s benefactor. Trehearne reveals to Pengallan that he is actually an undercover law-officer on a mission to investigate the wrecks. Pengallan is alarmed but maintains his composure and pretends to join forces with Trehearne. Mary overhears their conversation and goes to the inn to warn Patience that she must flee in order to avoid being arrested as an accomplice. However, Patience refuses to leave her husband.
Meanwhile, Pengallan learns of a ship full of precious cargo which is due to pass the local coastline. He informs Joss and the gang, who go to the beach,and there extinguish the coastal warning beacon, as they wait for the ship to appear. However, Mary re-lights the warning beacon, and the ship’s crew avoid the treacherous rocks and sail by unharmed. The gang angrily resolves to kill Mary as revenge for preventing the wreck, but Joss, who has developed a reluctant admiration for her, rescues her and the two escape by horse-cart. Joss is shot in the back and collapses when they reach Jamaica Inn. As Patience is about to tell Mary that Pengallan is the secret leader of the wrecking gang, Pengallan shoots and kills Patience from off-camera. Joss dies of his wound as well. Pengallan then takes Mary hostage, ties and gags her, and tells her that he plans to keep her now that she has no one else in the world. He drives her, still tied up and covered by a heavy cloak, to the harbour, where they board a large ship going to France.
Back at Jamaica Inn, Trehearne and a dozen soldiers take Joss’s gang into custody. Trehearne then rides to the harbor to rescue Mary and capture Pengallan, who attempts to escape. During the chase, he climbs to the top of the ship’s mast, from which he jumps to his death.
Charles Laughton as Sir Humphrey Pengallan
Leslie Banks as Joss Merlyn
Maureen O’Hara as Mary Yellen
Robert Newton as James ‘Jem’ Trehearne
Marie Ney as Patience Merlyn
Horace Hodges as Butler (Chadwick)
Hay Petrie as Groom (Sam)
Frederick Piper as Agent (Davis)
Herbert Lomas as Tenant (Dowland)
Clare Greet as Tenant (Granny Tremarney)
William Devlin as Tenant (Burdkin)
Emlyn Williams as Harry the Pedlar
Jeanne de Casalis as Sir Humphrey’s friend
Mabel Terry-Lewis as Lady Beston
A. Bromley Davenport as Ringwood
George Curzon as Captain Murray
Basil Radford as Lord George
Wylie Watson as Salvation Watkins
Morland Graham as Sea Lawyer Sydney - Sir Humphrey’s Gang
Edwin Greenwood as Dandy - Sir Humphrey’s Gang
Mervyn Johns as Thomas - Sir Humphrey’s Gang
Stephen Haggard as Willie Penhale - Sir Humphrey’s Gang
John Longden as Captain Johnson (uncredited)
Aubrey Mather as Coachman (uncredited)