Monday, February 4, 2013

JANE EYRE (1944)

(February 1944, U.S.)

Like many kids in high school, much of the literature that was required reading in English classes were about as exciting as sex with a Jewish woman! Therefore, as Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel of JANE EYRE was never required reading in my four years of high school, then (naturally) I never read it. My eventual interest in this particular American film version stems from my discovery of Orson Welles as an actor and a filmmaker. Beyond the outstanding performances in his own works like CITIZEN KANE (1941) and THE STRANGER (1946), he's provided work just as noteworthy in films he did not direct like THE THIRD MAN (1949) and this film I discuss now. Although not under his direction (officially), anyone familiar with his body of work as a director can clearly recognize the Orson Welles presence in specific camera shots of light and darkness, as well as the overall cinematography.

Getting back to high school reluctance with classic literature, it surprises me to learn that there are a number of surprising and, dare I say, exciting elements to be found in this film version of JANE EYRE. Besides the aforementioned black and white filmmaking artistry, there begins with the rather shocking and cruel manner in which we're introduced to Jane Eyre as an unwanted child of the classically cruel aunt who's never had a kind work for her poor niece. Escape from this horrible family only means transfer to the Lowood Institution charity boarding school for unwanted girls (look for an uncredited little girl named Elizabeth Taylor!) that's even more cruel under the harsh Reverend Brocklehurst (played by Henry Daniell). It's surprising to cut to Jane Eyre's life ten years later as a grown woman (played by Joan Fontaine) and find that she's managed to survive an entire decade of cruelty and emotional torture. She has survived, though, and she's determined to leave Lowood with her head held high for a position as a governess for the child of the mysterious Edward Rochester (played by Welles) at his gloomy, isolated mansion. Edward is rough, boorish, masterful and abrupt with Jane. She can handle it, though, because she's the first to recognize the gentle, even tormented, soul of her employer that's buried deep down underneath. Edward, in turn, can also recognize that Jane is a woman of true love and substance, unlike many of the high class, stuck-up ladies of his life that clearly only seek his attention for the money and lifestyle he can provide them.

The true shock of the story of JANE EYRE, in my opinion, lies in the deep, dark secret Edward keeps locked away in the highest, most isolated part of his mansion - namely his wife who's completely mad out of her mind. This wouldn't be such a problem were the act of bigamy preventing him from marrying his true love Jane (don't you HATE when those things happen??). In what I can only describe as true Hitchcock fashion via his 1940 film, REBECCA, the film concludes with an act of violence and a blazing inferno (unseen in the film) that by standards of pure cliche, brings the two seemingly doomed lovers together again in the end. Now that's true love for you, served 19th Century style!

So like I said, I never read JANE EYRE and I've never seen any other film version of it (because once you've seen the great Orson Welles in action with it, why bother with anyone else?), so I have no other frame of reference or comparison. I can only claim it's validity as true cinema of mystery, drama and excitment of the classic black and white genre...and that's good.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Blanche Ingram: "Good morning, Edward. By rights, I should scold you for running off like this. A correct host entertains his guests."
Edward Rochester: "My dear Blanche, when will you learn? I never was correct, nor ever shall be."

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