Jamaican me [u]inn[/u]sane, mon! ...Wow, that was terrible, although it's not that much worse than the film itself, or at least that's what others are saying. I guess snobby critics can dislike a film that is not simply from the 1930s, but directed by Alfred Hitchcock, especially when the film evokes memories of future Hitchcock projects that are a much bigger deal. Retrospect should really help this film, because it deserves to be respected for being Hitchcock's first adaptation of a piece by Daphne du Maurier, the writer of "Rebecca" and "The Birds", and because it's hard to not think about a Hitchcock film set in a hotel and not get a little bit tensed up, especially when Leslie Banks is there. Forget "Psycho", because when I think about Banks as an innkeeper in an adventure film from the '30s, I can't help but think of "The Most Dangerous Game", but don't get too excited, kids, because this film isn't even as tense as "The Most Dangerous Game". Well, that might just be because the Master of Suspense isn't really making an especially suspenseful film here, or at least not on purpose. This film is so British that there has to be some kind of chilling ambiguity to this narrative, given that you can't hardly understand what people are saying and are therefore left wondering just what in the world is going to happen next. Well, at least Jamaican accents aren't that common here, which isn't to say that this film doesn't still have issues extending beyond what I can apparently describe as "suspensefully confusing" British accents, as it is indeed pretty flat, though not entirely, at least in concept.
The story concept behind this film is executed with intrigue limitations that bland to the point of dullness, but as a basic idea, I must admit that it's pretty interesting as a dramatic study on the tensions between classes of 1819, complete with some meaty conflicts and interesting characters, underdeveloped in storytelling, and brought about as much to life as they can be by a charismatic cast. Well, I don't know if it's being of dating or simply a shortage in material, but even the performances are rather underwhelming here, with a few being kind of mediocre, and yet, there's still enough charisma within and chemistry between the classic talents who make up this broad cast to reinforce some sense of charm, and therefore help in driving the final product. Now, the performances certainly don't drive the film especially far, like they probably would have if they were more consistent in their effectiveness, yet decency in the final product really is all but secured by the charm of its performances, and not just the ones found on the screen. Finding the film to be a disaster, possibly even before completing his duties as director, the great Alfred Hitchcock does not place all that much inspiration into this effort, but he does indeed try, not so much in crafting all that much atmosphere, let alone his trademark potent one, but enough to draw on the colorful elements in the material at enough times to keep you from completely falling out of the film. The moments of decency are, of course, few and far between in this limp affair, but they do indeed stand, found on the backs of interesting subject matter, charismatic performances and colorful highlights in direction, all of which do what they can, at least enough to meet the missteps and place some control on their sting. Really, when it comes down to it, the film is both too bland and, well, too charming to be close to bad, and while the strengths aren't rich enough in either quantity or quality, they join the limitations in contemptibility in all but saving the film as pretty fair. As things stand, however, the final product falls, albeit not that far, but far enough into mediocrity to be utterly forgettable, despite interesting ideas that aren't even all that thoroughly explored, let alone done justice.
I've talked about the film's interesting characters, of which there are many, so as an ensemble piece, this drama could have gone a fair distance, but it really messes up by simply being underdeveloped, and seriously so, failing to flesh out its characters as distinguished, leaving many of the potentially unique characters to run together, and not fulfill their ostensibly key roles in this narrative which thrives on the characters' depths and interactions. The characters would have been all but completely uninteresting in execution if so many of the performances weren't so charismatic, but the expository laziness that the overwhelmingly overblown screenwriting team of Daphne du Maurier, Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville and J. B. Priestley seriously undercut the intrigue of this story, making it all that harder to ignore the limitations in intrigue that are even found in concept. Yes, the story is interesting, but the final product wouldn't be so easily mediocre if the story was more interesting, rather than light in scope for something of an adventure affair, as well as lacking in dramatic weight, despite its sometimes borderline abrasive efforts. I don't know if the film's histrionics are so much problematic because they're so severe, as much as they're problematic because they're just so recurring, falling over dramatic set piece after dramatic set piece, until it becomes too difficult to buy into them in the context of this melodrama as much more than cheesy, exacerbated by some camp. The film isn't terribly dated, but only so many of its attributes have aged with grace, and while the film is far from hilarious in its cheesiness, it's just so hard to take this film seriously, even when you take out of account the lack of storytelling meat that, quite frankly, could be forgiven if the film wasn't so dull. Constantly moving, at least with its dialogue, the film's narrative isn't all that overblown, but it is meandering, with near-monotonously do-little plotting that Alfred Hitchcock admittedly makes all the more glaring with an atmosphere that is present, with a number of highlights, but primarily bone-dry, maybe even cold, to the point of being, not simply bland, but just plain dull and distancing against a should-be entertaining opus that can't afford to distance you any more with all of its aforementioned problems. Undercooked, overblown and all around bland, the film has a charm to it that, when justified by some inspiration, all but saves the final product as yet another forgettable, but fair flick, yet when it's all said and done, the film doesn't do much of intrigue, and before to long, it becomes too hard to keep invested in it, in all of its mediocrity.
When it's time to check out, at least at the point at which the film would rather you would, charming performances and direction behind an interesting story concept are almost enough to save the final product, but through glaring underdevelopment and cheese, as well as sheer dullness to monotonous storytelling, Alfred Hitchcock's "Jamaica Inn" falls flat, as a borderline decent, but ultimately mediocre misfire to one of the more important filmmakers in storytelling, whose standards for inspiration are by no means exemplified here.
2.25/5 - Mediocre