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Jane Eyre (1944)

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Jane Eyre (1944)

Jane Eyre (1944)
DVD9 | ISO+MDS | NTSC 4:3 (720x480) | 01:36:18 | 7,75 Gb
Audio: English DD 2.0, DUBs: Spanish DD 2.0, French DD 2.0 | Subs: English, Spanish
Genre: Drama, Romance | USA

Small, plain and poor, Jane Eyre (Joan Fontaine) comes to Thornfield Hall as governess to the young ward of Edward Rochester (Orson Welles). Denied love all her life, Jane can't help but be attracted to the intelligent, vibrant, energetic Mr. Rochester, a man twice her age. But just when Mr. Rochester seems to be returning the attention, he invites the beautiful and wealthy Blanche Ingram and her party to stay at his estate. Meanwhile, the secret of Thornfield Hall could ruin all their chances for happiness.

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Charlotte Bronte reduced to straight Gothic romance, but surprisingly effective right from the opening shot of a wavering candle being carried down a long, dark corridor. The early sequences of Jane's schooling are probably the most stylistically consistent and vividly realised (Daniell's chillingly pious sadism as the headmaster, Moorehead sourly petting a piggish little fat boy, young Elizabeth Taylor dying from cruel negligence). After Welles makes his thunderous appearance out of the mist, thrown from his startled horse but still able to swirl a cape with fine braggadocio, the film becomes more erratic, but always looks as though Orson had at least one eye behind the camera. And the cracks (notably the discrepancies in acting styles between pallid Jane and full-blooded Rochester) are neatly papered over by a fine Bernard Herrmann score.
Jane Eyre (1944)

A satisfying and superior entertainment overall, Jane Eyre has some odd aspects. The opening section with the sensitive child actress Peggy Ann Garner (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) is almost perfect, condensing the events of the book without detracting from them in any way. Agnes Moorehead's imperious guardian and Henry Daniell's schoolmaster are a terrible pair of tormentors, and young Jane must endure humiliation and injustice. The stylization of these scenes evokes Jane's ordeal with masterful ease, with Jane and her friend Helen (the unbilled Liz Taylor) forced to march in the rain or stand on a stool amid a maze of German-inflected shadows. Perhaps the only sign of haste is in the quick pass-by of Sara Allgood's Bessie, who clearly played a much bigger part in the book. There is also some clever fudging with the "Dr. Rivers" character enacted by John Sutton. Writers John Houseman, Aldous Huxley and Robert Stevenson substituted his character for some relatives Jane encounters late in the tale.

Jane Eyre (1944)

When Jane 'grows up' to become Joan Fontaine, the movie and book begin to diverge. Fontaine is directed to play Jane too much like the ultra-shy and passive Rebecca from Fontaine's earlier career-making Alfred Hitchcock hit. Brontë's Jane is much more forceful and independent. After her stifling childhood the Jane of the book is determined to retain her personal independence, even though she welcomes marriage with Rochester. She is wary of being "bought," while the movie's Jane is all smiles when being fitted for a trousseau. Joan Fontaine's acting is always good, yet her character in this movie suffers from being altogether too similar to her roles in Rebecca and the later Suspicion.

Jane Eyre (1944)

That brings us to Orson Welles, in his first starring role (sort of) directed by someone else. As always, Welles makes a firm impression, but there's something funny about it – he never lets us forget that, even though A Big Actor is on screen Doing Dramatic Things, that we shouldn't be fooled, it's really him. Welles can be great in character roles where his bombast and eccentric behavior brighten otherwise dull plot corners. In Eyre, the unnecessarily meek Fontaine follows Welles around as if she were walking a big dog that she can't control.

Jane Eyre (1944)

Welles aficionados stress his creative influence over the film. Having Agnes Moorehead and Erskine Sanford in the cast, along with Bernard Herrmann's score certainly provides links to Welles' classic: one music cue comes direct from Citizen Kane). Equally strong is the film's period sensibility, carefully manufactured on interior studio sets, a feeling perhaps influenced by Val Lewton's RKO films. Just the year before, Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie had been immediately recognized as a version of Jane Eyre transposed to the West Indies. Director Stevenson may have been as impressed with Lewton's 'small strokes' approach to period detail as were the British filmmakers Michael Powell and David Lean, who in the next few years would turn out a number of highly accomplished literary and period classics using the diminished resources of tiny English studios. The Mrs. Fairfax character is played by Edith Barrett, Lewton's actor from both Zombie and The Ghost Ship. Henry Daniell wouldn't be associated with Val Lewton for another year, in his The Body Snatcher.

Jane Eyre (1944)

Jane Eyre wraps itself up in a big hurry, which is a good decision. From the unsuccessful wedding forward, the story becomes progressively sketchy, barely touching on Jane's adventures away from Rochester's house. The original book managed to find an unexpected inheritance for Jane – another Romance Novel "must" – and a potential husband candidate, albeit a missionary with no romantic appeal. The movie hurries to the memorable moment when a supernatural voice calls to Jane over the moors. Since Orson Welles is one of the best disembodied voices of the 20th century, that moment works beautifully. The high drama of Herrmann's dynamic music does the rest of the heavy lifting.
Jane Eyre (1944)

Special Features:
- Commentary by Welles biographer Joseph McBride and actress Margaret O'Brien
- Commentary by Nick Redman, Steven Smith and Julie Kirgo
- Isolated Score
- Featurette: Locked in the Tower: the Men Behind Jane Eyre (18:48)
Jane Eyre (1944)


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