On Your Toes (Warner) is Rodgers & Hart's romping 1936 Broadway musical success turned into a movie that gets its leaden foot in its mouth at the outset, spends the rest of the time coyly failing to get it out again. The story concerns one Phil Dolan 3rd (Eddie Albert), called Junior, who drops out as the juvenile in a hoofing act to write the Great American Ballet. He meets a Russian ballet troupe, falls in love with its gorgeous premiere danseuse (Zorina). When timid Junior, pinch-hitting as a black slave in the Russian ballet, gets scared and runs wild, critics rave at the new humorous note, and its "angel" orders the shocked maestro (Alan Hale) to produce Junior's U. S. ballet, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, in which he later does some neat hoofing.
But in passing from Broadway to Hollywood, On Your Toes has suffered a see change. Even Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, a high point of the original version, has no more bang than the pop-pistol percussion with which the orchestra burlesques its pantomime killings. Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Leonid Kinskey fling flat gags around with as much nervous energy as if they were hand grenades, but they never go off. Typical duds: "We are waiting for Levsky"; "Aha! mutiny on the ballet."
Though Zorina's lyrical legs wore out four pairs of slippers in a day making On Your Toes, even the superb, deliberate grace with which she dances, regardless, among such sickening verbal thuds cannot completely save a picture that gets on everybody's toes but its own.
Jamaica Inn (Mayflower). Fans of Director Alfred Hitchcock had a surprise in store for them when they got the wrappings off this Hitchcock picture. They found it was no Hitchcock but an authentic Laughton. Scarcely a shot in the whole picture revealed the famed British director's old mastery of cunning camera, sly humor, shrewd suspense. But Charles Laughton's impersonation of a Nero-like Cornish squire who is the paranoiac brain behind a gang of land pirates was magnificent in the eye-rolling, head-cocking, lip-pursing, massively mincing Laughton style.
Jamaica Inn is the somewhat free rending of Daphne Du Maurier's best-seller of the same name. It tells about the few but feverish days Mary Yellen (lank, pale-faced, sloe-eyed Maureen O'Hara) passed with her Aunt Patience at a creepy Cornish inn, until kidnapped by Squire Pengallon who later jumps from a yardarm, kills himself.
People who like their melodrama raw and in big gulps get their fill. Those who would swap a third-rate Hitchcock any night for a first-rate Laughton get an even break.
Maureen O'Hara is a touchy, spunky, comely 18-year-old, as Irish as a banshee, with a lilting Dublin brogue. Like Mrs. Charles Laughton (Elsa Lanchester) she is a redhead. Before making Jamaica Inn, she studied at the apprentice school of Dublin's famed Abbey Theatre, did bits on the stage for a short time, bits in pictures. Though she was short on experience, one screen test convinced Actor-Producer Laughton that he should cast Maureen O'Hara in Jamaica Inn. Impressed by her success in that picture, RKO last month signed her to play Esmeralda in their new version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton.