A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Jamaica Inn (Alfred Hitchcock, 1939)

According to Stephen Whitty's excellent The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, the director thought Jamaica Inn "completely absurd" and didn't even bother to make his familiar cameo appearance in it. Hitchcock was right: It's a ridiculously plotted and often amateurishly staged film -- although Hitchcock must take some of the blame for the scenes in which characters sneak around talking in stage whispers and pretending they're hidden from their pursuers when they're in plain sight for anyone with average peripheral vision. Much of Hitchcock's attitude toward the film has been ascribed to his clashes with Charles Laughton, who was an uncredited co-producer and resisted any attempts by the director to rein in one of his more ridiculous performances. As Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the county squire and justice of the peace who is secretly raking in a fortune by collaborating with smugglers who loot shipwrecked vessels after murdering their crew, Laughton wears a fake nose and oddly placed eyebrows and hams it up mercilessly. Maureen O'Hara, in her first major film role, struggles with a confusingly written character who sometimes displays fire and initiative and at other times seems alarmingly obtuse. The rest of the cast includes such stalwarts of the British film and stage as Leslie Banks, Emlyn Williams, and Basil Radford, with a surprising performance by Robert Newton as the movie's romantic lead, Jem Traherne, an agent working undercover to expose the smugglers. You look in vain at the young Newton for traces of his terrifying Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist (David Lean, 1948) or his Long John Silver in Treasure Island (Byron Haskin, 1950). The production design is handsome, and the film begins with an exciting storm at sea, but the screenplay, based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel and written by the usually capable Sidney Gilliat and Joan Harrison, quickly falls apart. Hitchcock's last film in England, Jamaica Inn was a critical flop but a commercial success.

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