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Jack Ahoy! (1934)

A star vehicle for Jack Hulbert. He's a sailor who is descended from a hero of Trafalgar and is determined to live up to the family name. His attempts at heroics get him involved with Chinese bandits. Hulbert gets plenty of chances to sing, dance and generally do his stuff. He also gets to smoke some opium and have a very strange dream as an excuse for a dance number. Walter Forde directs this popular romp though it's art director Alfred Junge who most impresses.

Script: Sidney Gilliat, J.O.C. Orton, Jack Hulbert, Leslie Arliss, Gerard Fairlie, Austin Melford

Director: Walter Forde

Players: Nancy O'Neil, Alfred Drayton, Tamara Desni, Henry Peterson, Sam Wilkinson

Jack the Ripper (1958)

Do I need to give you a plot summary? The Ripper story was a natural for the tidal wave of horror movies that came from companies trying to follow Hammer's success. This even has a script by Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster. It's not a bad stab (oh dear) at the tale but there are better.

Script: Jimmy Sangster

Director: Robert S. Baker

Players: Lee Patterson, Betty McDowall, Eddie Byrne, Ewen Solon,  George Rose, Philip Leaver, Barbara Burke, Denis Shaw, Anne Sharp, Esma Cannon, George Woodbridge, Bill Shine, Marianne Stone 

Jack's the Boy (1932)

Fresh from their success in the previous year's The Ghost Train, husband and wife team Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge reunited with director Walter Forde to produce this tale of a young man's attempt to prove himself worthy to be in the police force. I say "young" but Hulbert was hitting forty when this was made and he's just a bit long in the tooth for the role. Courtneidge plays his girlfriend's old nanny which is much nearer the right age range.

The premise is simple and silly. Hulbert's dad wants him to get a job. Hulbert wants to join the police but his dad is high up in Scotland Yard and doesn't want the embarrassment of silly-ass Hulbert. Hulbert joins in secret but his secret comes out when he fails to catch a jewel thief he'd chased into Madame Tussauds. By now he suspects that the thief is his chief rival for the affections of Ivy (Winifred Shotter). When he and Courtneidge realise the swag has been hidden in the waxworks they set a trap for the villains. It all ends happily.

As entertainment, it's curious. Hulbert and Courtneidge clown about nicely but it's hard to see how this film was one of the biggest hits of its year (big enough to be the punchline of a comic song in the following year's The Good Companions). Opportunities for them to "do their stuff" are poked into the narrative in the oddest places. They search a thief's flat and spontaneously break into a silly dance. It would be charming if it wasn't so bloody irritating.

Perhaps the most interesting bits of the film now are the sequences filmed on location both on the streets of London and in Madame Tussauds (though you have to doubt the effectiveness of any film chase sequence in which you get more interested in the passing billboards than the action).

All in all, it's a film which has dated badly and which doesn't show off the stars to their best advantage. (I say stars but they are introduced in the titles with the words "The cast includes:" which is off-handed enough to be post-modern).

Script: W.P. Lipscomb

Director: Walter Forde

Players: Francis Lister, Peter Gawthorne, Ben Field, Charles Ferrell, Ronald Curtis

Jacqueline (1956)

Jacqueline is John Gregson's sickeningly chirpy daughter who keeps him off the booze when he loses his job at a Belfast shipyard. It was liked well enough at the time, but the mixture of social realism and sentiment doesn't play well these days.

Poster for Jaqueline

Script: Patrick Kirwan, Liam O'Flaherty, Patrick Campbell, Catherine Cookson

Director: Roy Baker

Players: Jacqueline Ryan, Kathleen Ryan, Liam Redmond, Noel Purcell, Cyril Cusack, Richard O'Sullivan, Marie Kean, Maureen Swanson, Sam Kydd

Jamaica Inn (1939)

It's 18th century Cornwall. Sweet, orphaned Maureen O'Hara arrives at the mysterious Jamaica Inn to live with her aunt and her violent husband, little knowing that it is the haunt of a gang of Wreckers. One of the gang members, Robert Newton, sows dissent among the cut-throats and gets strung up for his trouble. Plucky Maureen rescues him and they flee to the safety of the home of the local bigwig, Charles Laughton, little realising that he is the secret head of the Wreckers. Newton reveals that he is a detective and, after a lot of chasing about, a ship is saved, the gang is rounded up and Laughton is exposed. Laughton abducts Maureen but kills himself when cornered.

The film has great credentials apart from the participation of Laughton and Hitchcock. The original novel is by Daphne du Maurier. The script is by Hitchcock stalwarts Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison and Alma Reville with some additional dialogue by J.B. Priestley. The main producer Erich Pommer has a distinguished record that goes back as far as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. So what went wrong?

The main problem seems to be one of control. Laughton was co-producer as well as star and Hitchcock couldn't control him. Laughton was always an undisciplined actor and deeply insecure. This had already cost him the role of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield and caused Korda's production of I Claudius to be abandoned. For the first ten days of shooting he insisted on only close-ups being filmed, because he hadn't yet perfected the walk he wanted to use. And the additional dialogue J.B. Priestley wrote was all for Laughton.

Hitchcock soon lost patience and interest. He was already an international name and had a Hollywood contract in his pocket. He only took on Jamaica Inn while he was waiting for his new job to start. This lack of interest is very apparent in the direction. It gets off to a good start with a wrecking scene which promises a lot, but the film is soon lost in a fog of lethargy. The script gives plenty of opportunity for Hitchcock to do his stuff, but he can't rise to the occasion.

The performances rate from the adequate to the downright bloody awful, with Laughton firmly in the latter category. He looks the spitting image of Dawn French when she dresses up as one of those fat old men. His character Sir Humphrey Pengallon is meant to be a man cursed by the fear of hereditary madness and uncertain whether he has crossed the line into lunacy. We're never in any doubt that he's completely barking. Therefore, the climax when he goes utterly bananas just makes us ask "What's the difference?"

In the bad acting stakes, he's given a run for his money by Leslie Banks who at least has the excuse of perverse miscasting. When you think "brutal drunken thug", Leslie Banks is not the first name that comes to mind. Emlyn Williams performs in a dreary monotone that's meant to be sinister but just makes him look drowsy.

The film doesn't deserve its reputation as a complete stinker (it has a place of honour in the Medved brothers' Fifty Worst Movies of All Time) but it's nobody's finest hour. Most of the participants would go on to make better films, and many would make worse. Personally, I'd place Topaz far lower down in the Hitchcock oeuvre. It is however a disappointment and a sad end to the first half of Hitchcock's career.

Poster for Jamaica Inn

Script adapt.: Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville, J.B. Priestley. (o.a. Daphne du Maurier)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Players: Wylie Watson, Marie Ney, Morland Graham, Stephen Haggard, Mervyn Johns, Edwin Greenwood, Horace Hodges, Jeanne de Casalis, Basil Radford, John Longden, George Curzon, Hay Petrie, Frederick Piper, Herbert Lomas, Clare Greet, William Devlin, O.B. Clarence

Jane Shore (1915)

During the War of the Roses, a beautiful young woman is subject to the advances of several powerful men - and the jealousy of one powerful woman.

Probably the biggest British epic of its period, the scale still impresses. However, even in its day it was considered slightly old-fashioned, and the passage of time hasn't helped.

Script adapt.: Rowland Talbot. (o.a. W.G. Wills)

Director: Bert Haldane, F. Martin Thornton

Players: Blanch Forsythe, Roy travers, Rolf Leslie, Robert Purdie

Jassy (1947)

More Wicked Lady stuff from Margaret Lockwood. This time she's a gypsy, more sinned against than sinning, and without that strain of evil this film quickly becomes a dull disappointment.

Script adapt.: Dorothy Christie, Campbell Christie, Geoffrey Kerr. (o.a. Norah Lofts)

Director: Bernard Knowles

Players: Dermot Walsh, Dennis Price, Patricia Roc, Basil Sydney, Nora Swinburne, Linden Travers, Ernest Thesiger, Cathleen Nesbitt, Jean Cadell, John Laurie, Grey Blake, Torin Thatcher, Beatrice Varley, Maurice Denham, Esma Cannon, Eliot Makeham, Susan Shaw