At the Brattle
This week the Brattle has lifted an old skeleton from the Hitchcock closet. Jamaica Inn, which bears little resemblance to the director's usual stock-in-trade, will be locked away by Saturday, however, and perhaps it is just as well. In the meantime, Charles Laughton's performance eases some of the strain created by two hours of frenzied melodrama.
Laughton, of course, has hacked a large hole for himself in the theatre world, and the Inn's Squire Pengallen is a character comfortably fitted within its boundaries. A bulbous villain with the dining habits of Henry VIII and the heart of Captain Bligh, the Squire lives in opulence while anonymously leading a gang of shipwreckers. Laughton makes him a polished old rogue, who cheerfully entertains his victims with superb and comically obvious hypocrisy.
Laughton's gusty humour has had an amazing durability. His co-star, Maureen O'Hara, might also boast of her consistency throughout the years. Jamaica Inn proves conclusively that she was just as inept in 1939 as she is today. In the role of an Irish lass whose innocence is only overshadowed by her muscle, Miss O'Hara's acting is a pantomime with words.
Unfortunately, she is about par for a blustery course. Robert Newton, as the law officer, and Emlyn Williams, a pirate, can do little more to support a disjointed script sagging mainly from the over-productive imagination of authoress Daphne du Maurier. Both the screen play and the acting proceed at a hurricane pitch, which makes Jamaica Inn seem considerably older than its tender fifteen years.