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Friday, March 18, 2011

Jane Eyre (1944)

l-r: Joan Fontaine (as Jane), Orson Welles (as Rochester), Margaret O'Brien (as Adele), Peggy Ann Garner (as Young Jane), and Elizabeth Taylor (as Helen)

England, 1829. As the film begins, young Jane (Peggy Ann Garner), an orphan, is living in a strict house of her wicked and cruel aunt (Agnes Moorhead). At the age of 10, she is sent to a prison-like boarding school, Lowood, where she's taunted, teased, called an "unregenerate child" and cruelly punished, all while getting "spiritual instruction". Her best friend Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) helps her keep her sanity.

Jane Eyre and her best friend Helen, played by Elizabeth Taylor

The story advances a few years and Joan Fontaine plays Jane at 18. She accepts a job at a country estate known as Thornfield Hall, where she works as a governess and caretaker of little Adele (played by Margaret O'Brien), who appears to be an orphan, like Jane. The master of the household is Mr. Rochester, played by Orson Welles, who is very domineering and intimidating. As time goes by, Jane learns to accept him and grows fond of him, becoming jealous when he courts another woman.

I was impressed with Joan and thought she was well cast opposite Welles.
Rochester also has feelings for her, but there is something he's not telling her.

I was not familiar with this story before seeing this movie, the first film version I had ever seen of this. So the last part of this movie really was exciting for me because I did not know what to expect. Why was the the door upstairs banging?, I asked. It is a thriller of a story. Joan Fontaine is excellent, and has the right personality and maturity to bring this character to life, even if she was a little older (27) than the character. Welles is also fantastic in this, very convincing as this character.

There have been a number of other movie versions of this classic novel over the years, but I haven't seen them and cannot compare them to this version. To me, this is the definitive version. Featuring a beautiful music score by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane), intense black-and-white cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca) and is well directed by Robert Stevenson. I really liked how at certain points actual pages from the novel were shown as Joan (as Jane) narrates.

The credited screenwriters are director Stevenson, Aldous Huxley, John Houseman, a good friend of Welles' from his early days in the theater. Stevenson went on to direct many classic Disney films of the 1960s. He does a good job directing all the child actors here, and gets a few comic moments out of little Margaret O'Brien.

This movie is 96 minutes long and you can watch it streaming on NetFlix or rent on DVD.


Edward Rochester............Orson Welles
Jane Eyre.........................Joan Fontaine
Young Jane (age 10)........Peggy Ann Garner
Helen...............................Elizabeth Taylor
Dr. Rivers.........................John Sutton
Mrs. Reed........................Agnes Moorehead
Mrs. Fairfax....................Edith Barrett
Blanche.....................Hillary Brooke

The final title card encouraged the audience of 1944 to buy war bonds.

This version was recently featured on Ebert Presents; view the clip here on the official website


KC said...

I love the way Margaret O'Brien wakes Fontaine with the music box. Cutesy, but charming.

Tom said...

I agree. O'Brien does have some good moments in this.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that they were thinking seriously about casting Vivien Leigh's daughter, Suzanne, as the young Jane? Interesting! I forget why they ended up not using her, I think it had something to do with the Canadian accent she had acquired at boarding school, LOL.

Tom said...

Interesting! I didn't know that!

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