Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Jamaica Inn (1939), Part 3

Joan Harrison and remakes

  • Chief co-writer on Hitchcock’s original version became a trailblazing film executive
  • Accomplished screenwriter and Universal’s first female producer bravely went solo
  • She also shepherded Alfred Hitchcock Presents to enormous and enduring success
  • Refusing to sink: film, TV, radio, theatre and musical dramatisations keep on coming
  • Four adaptations of Daphne du Maurier’s novel have sailed onto big and small screens
  • Latter three were made for TV and are more faithful to source than Hitchcock’s take
  • As ever, bootlegs are rife; avoid the cutthroat copies and stick to quality releases
  • Perennially popular on the radio: over a dozen adaptations in past eight decades

Note: this is one of 100-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Jamaica Inn Part 1: Production | Part 2: Home video releases | Part 3: Joan Harrison and remakes

Time for a showdown: Charles Laughton and a terrified Maureen O'Hara in Hitchcock's original Jamaica Inn (1939)

Time for a showdown: psychopathic Charles Laughton and a terrified Maureen O’Hara in Hitchcock’s original Jamaica Inn


Joan Harrison

Joan Harrison, screenwriter and producer smoking and reading a script in bed at her home in Los Angeles, 1945

Joan Harrison, a cigarette and a script, in bed at her house in Los Angeles, 1945. Don’t do this at home, kids – or anywhere else for that matter. Smoking, that is.

Joan Harrison, one of the film’s principal screenwriters, had joined Hitch as his secretary in late 1933 during pre-production for The Man Who Knew Too Much and worked increasingly, albeit uncredited, on his scripts. She received her first onscreen credit for Jamaica Inn and having established herself  as an invaluable part of Hitch’s team, accompanied him and his family to America in early 1939. Once there, she further proved her worth by co-writing the screenplays for Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion and Saboteur. She then became a very successful screenwriter and producer in her own right, being one of only three women working in Hollywood in the latter role and the only one to do both. Perhaps most significantly, Harrison rejoined Hitch to produce all 268 episodes of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series and 23 (of 93) episodes of The AH Hour, incredibly all while maintaining her own projects. Hitch may have been the public face of the programme but Harrison inarguably did more than anyone to ensure its quality, consistency and popularity throughout the initial broadcasts and decades since. In 1958, Harrison married the hugely popular thriller novelist and screenwriter Eric Ambler who, among his many accomplishments, penned the 1962 “Act of Faith” episode of …Presents.

Alongside several of Hitchcock’s unjustly sidelined collaborators, Harrison is finally getting her due. Most recently, this comes in the form of Phantom Lady, an in-depth, impeccably researched and written biography. It’s named after the classic 1944 noir, Harrison’s first post-Hitch producing success. The book is highly accessible for scholars and fans alike, and shines a revealing, evocative light on an important figure who for too long has been omitted from the annals of film history. In addition to uncovering numerous previously undocumented details, it firmly dispels the myth that Harrison has a cameo in The Man Who Knew Too Much:

“She is listed in the official credits as “Secretary,” a description that has led some to misidentify her as the woman who sits next to Lorre in the opening dining room sequence at the Swiss hotel (though the exotic brunette in the scene bears little resemblance to Joan). The truth of Joan’s participation is much more prosaic. “The actress in the movie [Edna Best] was supposed to drive a car in one scene,” Joan disclosed in a 1949 interview, “and she couldn’t drive. For one glorious scene, I became a double for the heroine, for the first and last time on screen.’

If Joan did serve as a substitute driver for Best, her fleeting moment likely ended up on the cutting-room floor. Jill’s scenes when she travels by automobile involve only taxis and police cars. In no scene is she, or her stand-in, seen driving. So why is Joan described as playing a secretary in so many credible references? One possible explanation: Joan was listed as company “secretary” in some of the film’s official documents, including call sheets and credit lists, which led to ensuing confusion about her role on the production. Even at this early stage, Joan was already playing the role of phantom lady.”

Harrison’s only known onscreen appearance is in the two-part “A Talk with Hitchcock” (1964, 52min), episode of Telescope (1963–1973), a Canadian TV documentary series. This excellent, little-seen programme has only been issued on disc as an extra on four Scandinavian DVDs of Lifeboat and a standalone, US region 0 DVD.

Phantom Lady (1944)

Phantom Lady aka Condemned to Hang (1944) US 1950 re-release lobby card

Phantom Lady was given the more lurid title Condemned to Hang for its 1950 US re-release, as evidenced by this lobby card. Yet more smoking, tut-tut.

This essential film noir is based on the eponymous 1942 novel by crime writer Cornell Woolrich, although it was initially published under his William Irish pseudonym. Woolrich was a prolific author and his works were adapted into dozens of big screen classics of the genre; others were Rear Window and François Truffaut’s Hitchcock homage, The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Licensed home video options for Phantom Lady are a straightforward choice:

All DVDs are region-locked with original audio; only the German and Brazilian have optional subtitles in their respective languages while the former also has an optional original dub. They all feature the same decent transfer with minor scratches and other signs of wear scattered throughout. The US has three very brief featurettes (8min) and extensive image galleries; the French has an interview with film historian Herve Dumont (18min, in French), a documentary on the director, Conversations with Robert Siodmak (60min, German w/French subs) and the original trailer (1½min). The German has a gallery and that trailer again, while the Brazilian set has a wealth of noir cast interviews, featurettes, trailers, etc, totalling 90 minutes, though they all relate to the other films in the set and none directly to Phantom Lady.

Caps-a-holic: BD vs French DVD

The DVDs more than get the job done but these days there’s really only one way to see the film – or two if you count HD streaming – and that’s via these beautiful dual-region, A/B-coded BDs:

Aside from the UK sleeve’s added rating logo, Arrow’s simultaneously released transatlantic discs are absolutely identical. They have a near immaculate,  digitally cleaned-up and stabilised transfer that advances significantly over the DVDs. They have English subs, the Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir doc (52min), another extensive gallery and an illustrated booklet. The remaining extra is the March 27, 1944, Lux Radio Theater adaptation with returning stars Ella Raines and Alan Curtis (60min). It’s strange Arrow didn’t include the other radio adaptation from Screen Guild Theater, September 11, 1944 (30min). Never mind: they’re both freely available anyway:

Lastly comes the depressingly predictable caveat: beware the bootlegs. Home-made DVD-Rs are all over eBay, iOffer and the like but the main offenders are discs from Italy (Golem Video, Sinister Film) and Spain (Suevia/Resen).

TCM Robert Osborne introduction

Inn on the radio

Jamaica Inn has generated over a dozen BBC radio dramatisations dating from the year of Hitch’s film right up to the present day. However, the only ones currently available are a trio of recordings from 1984, 2003 and 2015. To catch the other entries, listen out for occasional repeats on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Here’s the 2003:

Jamaica Inn (1983)

Trevor Eve, Jane Seymour and Joseph McGoohan in Jamaica Inn (1983) TV miniseries

Beginning several decades after Hitch’s adaptation, Du Maurier’s novel has been restaged several times for the small screen. First to surface was this 187-minute miniseries starring Bond (and Harryhausen!) girl Jane Seymour, Patrick “The Prisoner” McGoohan and Trevor Eve, who is perhaps best known for playing detectives Eddie Shoestring and Peter Boyd. With time to flesh out the story more fully and faithfully than Hitch’s version, this sumptuous production makes for a highly entertaining experience. Aside from one inland scene shot in adjacent Devon, it has the unique distinction of being the only version filmed entirely on location in Cornwall, the setting of the novel.

When first broadcast stateside, around 30 minutes were unceremoniously cut, leaving the results looking decidedly disjointed but thankfully that compromised version has never been officially released on home video. However, US buyers beware: there’s been no licensed domestic DVD release yet; the only official outings have been on VHS. The many discs floating around eBay, iOffer and the like are, ahem, pirates, with edited TV or YouTube-derived transfers. If you’re really lucky (sarcasm), some might be lifted directly from one of these official VHSs:

  • US: R&G Video LP VHS and SP 3-VHS (1991)
    • Anchor Bay LP VHS (1996)
  • UK: United Media VHS (1997)
  • Benelux: VideoSales Network VHS (1992)
  • Croatia ElGaz 3-VHS (1987)

These official DVDs are the best way to go; they’re all completely barebones, without even any subs, though the German disc has an optional dub. I assume the series was shot on 16mm or, possibly, 35mm film then transferred and edited on standard definition videotape, from whence all broadcast and home video editions are derived. Thus, we won’t be seeing it in better quality anytime soon unless the rights holders decide to pony up the cash to get the original negatives scanned in HD and the entire production re-edited and mastered from scratch. Well, you never know…

The score, by Francis Shaw and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was also excerpted on a 7″ consisting of “Mary’s Theme” backed with “Shipwreck”.

L’auberge de la Jamaïque (1995)

L'auberge de la Jamaïque aka Jamaica Inn (1995) advert and article

Unfortunately, I can’t find much solid info about this 90-minute French TV movie starring the 22-year-old Alice Béat and helmed by her father, director Gilles Béhat. What I do know is that it was shot in Manche on the northern French coast and apparently on 35mm film. This means although broadcast in the 4:3 aspect ratio, it was very likely primarily composed for 1.85:1 exhibition to facilitate a possible limited theatrical release, as is the case with many high budget TV movies. The bottom line is that this version has the potential to yield a beautiful HD widescreen transfer for streaming or Blu-ray. Right now though, apart from occasional domestic TV airings, it’s as yet unavailable.

Jamaica Inn (2014)

Precisely matching the 1983 version’s 187-minute runtime and three-part miniseries format, this had the makings of being the most fully-rounded production yet. It ups the sexiness and angst quotient considerably and is a handsome looking beast, to be sure. The sweeping cinematography further distinguishes itself as it’s the only adaptation available in widescreen, while the audio is the most dynamically recorded yet, ditching all other versions’ mono for surround stereo. Despite that, it received thousands of complaints for frequently unintelligible dialogue on its initial airings. Its audio has possibly been retweaked for home video as it doesn’t seem that bad, but subtitles do still occasionally come in handy.

All four DVDs have English subtitles and by way of extras, 25 minutes of cast and crew interviews and nine minutes of behind the scenes footage, while the US adds a picture gallery. The US, UK and Oz all have 2.0 stereo audio, whereas the German and its optional dub are in 5.1 surround. This version, being a more recent production, was shot and finished in HD; at least one Blu-ray would have been welcomed but seems unlikely at this point.

Teaser #2, #3 | BBC trailer | German trailer | Portuguese trailer, teaser

Clips and behind the scenes footage | more BtS footage | interview | BtS photos: #1, #2, #3, #4

Jamaica Inn Part 1: Production | Part 2: Home video releases | Part 3: Joan Harrison and remakes

For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.


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