1820, George IV, Cornwall, crashing seas, piracy. It seems to me that there ought to be a different terms for these Cornish pirates (and maybe there is, and if you know what it is, I’d like to hear it). I think of a “pirate” as somebody who attacks a ship at sea, from his own pirate boat. Here, the dastards take down beacons during storms at night, confusing the helmsmen and causing them to crash on the rocks. After that, they plunge into the dangerous waters to loot the ship and kill the crew. Looked like a hard way to earn a living to me.
This movie was based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. She hated it so much she almost didn’t sell the rights to Hitchcock’s next film, Rebecca. I can certainly see why. Charles Laughton, an actor I have admired for many years in almost all his films, seems to have gone bonkers and have had an extreme attack of egomania. He virtually co-directed the film, demanding so much more screen than was in the original script that the whole plot had to be changed. He minces around as Squire Pengallon, the rich man behind the pirates, his huge nose in the air, eyes almost closed, with porcine features that must have taken a lot of make-up time each morning. It’s a hammy performance. Of course, Laughton was a ham, he was the whole damn hog, but he almost always made it work delightfully. Not this time. He’s painful to watch.
The only bright spot here is a very young Maureen O’Hara (who is still alive at 92, praise be!) in her first major screen role. Hitchcock saw her screen test and wanted her, so we’ve got him to thank for a great career. She arrives at the inn and soon rescues Robert Newton from hanging. I knew I’d seen Newton somewhere but I could place him. I later found out he had played a memorable Bill Sikes in David Lean’s Oliver Twist.