Other night, up late, in the mood to watch something on TV, I decided to enjoy one of the best things about living in the 21st Century---streaming movies from Netflix through the Wii.
My choices were limited because I only have 298 items in my Watch Instantly queue.
One of them, though, was Jamaica Inn, a sort of, kind of swashbuckler, a little like a pirate movie, costume drama from 1939 starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara and directed by…Alfred Hitchcock!
For a second, when I saw it in the queue, I confused it with A High Wind in Jamaica, an actual swashbuckler and real pirate movie from 1965 starring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn.
“Jamaica Inn? Jamaica Inn?” I muttered to myself. “What’s that about again?”
Only one good way to get an answer to that. I googled Jamaica Inn and the name of my favorite film blogger to see if she’d ever had anything to say about it.
She’d said this:
[Laughton] creates a monster of the English gentry, convinced that his privilege is divine will, and that his appreciation of the finest objects and food justifies anything he may do to keep up a steady supply. One of the best things about Jamaica Inn is watching Sir Humphrey enjoy his private jokes at others' expense. They're nothing to him, just ants; the squire is another Harry Lime, moved back some generations and up a few rungs on the social ladder. Like Welles, Laughton had a face perfect for conveying sensuous depravity, with that overlarge lower lip doing half the work for him. When Maureen O'Hara walks in, you believe he wants her, but not in bed. O'Hara's beauty makes her another object to be acquired and handled, protected from the peons who won't appreciate her properly.
Good enough for me, I said and pointed the nunchuck at the TV to start the movie.
I didn’t get very far into it, because my favorite film blogger had also said this:
The Siren suspects a lot of people buy this DVD thinking "Great! a Hitchcock I've never seen!" But Jamaica Inn (1939) is far more Laughton's movie, featuring a performance that makes the other characters shrink toward the edge of the frame whenever he's around. Like diners who know the waiter sees them, but despair of luring him back to their table, actors make vague gestures in Laughton's direction but don't seem to have any real hope of engaging him.
A mark of a great film critic is that critic’s ability to make us watch a movie or performance through her eyes, to get us to see exactly what she saw.
And that’s what happened. I saw that my favorite film blogger was right. Laughton turns Jamaica Inn into a one-man show and Hitchcock---possibly phoning it in, his head and heart, as my favorite film blogger suggests, already in Hollywood, this being the last movie he was going to make in England for a while---let him get away with it.
Which is fine, if you’re a super-fan of Laughton. My favorite film blogger is. I’m not so much. I’m more of a fan of watching Laughton steal scenes from other hams who deserve to have scenes stolen from them and of watching other actors figuring out how to keep him from stealing scenes from them and of watching him, in moments of whimsical generosity, not only not steal a scene from a lesser actor but finding a way of making that lesser actor look better.
Once I began to see Jamaica Inn as a one-man show I started growing annoyed and bored. I turned it off and found something better to do.
Another mark of a great film critic is that there a movies about which you’d rather read what she’s written than actually watch.
Instead of watching any more movies, I read. I browsed through the archives of my favorite film blogger’s blog. And the more I read the more movies I added to my Netflix queue. Not surprising. At least a third of the movies in my queues, Watch Instantly and DVD, and movies I’ve bookmarked for later viewing at YouTube are there because of what she’s written about them.
This includes bunches of films I’d never heard of until I read about them on my favorite film blogger’s blog or---because I’ve had the pleasure several times now---talked with her in person.
Films like Jamaica Inn.
One more mark of a great film critic. You’re always learning something from them.
My favorite film blogger seems to have watched everything and read everything and she remembers it all.
That post on Jamaica Inn, I noticed, is dated August 2005.
Almost five years ago.
Five years? Five years! It’s been five years already?
Happy Blogaversary, Farran!
What should I put in the queue today?