[Film Review] Jane Eyre (1943)

Jane Eyre 1943 poster.jpg

Title: Jane Eyre
Year: 1943
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Robert Stevenson
Aldous Huxley
Robert Stevenson
John Houseman
based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editor: Walter Thompson
Joan Fontaine
Orson Welles
Margaret O’Brien
Peggy Ann Garner
Edith Barrett
John Sutton
Hillary Brooke
Henry Daniell
Sara Allgood
Agnes Moorehead
Elizabeth Taylor
John Abbott
Ethel Griffies
Aubrey Mather
Rating: 7.5/10

Jane Eyre 1943.jpg

Chiefly remembered as a solid hired hand for Disney, and their collaboration’s unequivocal apex arrives with MARRY POPPINS (1964), but two decades before that, UK director Robert Stevenson has made a splash with the adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s timeless JANE EYRE, starring Joan Fontaine as our titular heroine and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester, both in their prime of youth.

However it takes a good half an hour before our top-billing stars show up, first, we are treated with a compendious overview of young Jane Eyre (an impressively emotive Garner)’s ordeal at the hands of her guardian, the unloving aunt Ms. Reed (Moorehead), and then a sadistic martinet, Reverend Henry Brocklehurst (Daniell, pompous to a fault), the head of a charity boarding school for young girls, and the only ray of sunshine coruscates in the form of an ephemeral friendship with another girl Helen (an uncredited Liz Taylor appearing as a truly angelic apparition).

When an adult Jane finally arrives at Thornfield as the new governess for the French girl Adèle (O’Brien, another sterling child performer lading out cuteness/cutesiness to excess), audience are piqued to see what kind of a personhood she possesses after such misfortune, and this time, she has to face a saturnine master Edward, Adèle’s guardian and a hidden secret manifested by nocturnal spookiness.

Magnificently and sometimes startlingly shrouded in its expressionistic atmospherics, that Gothic edifice and its sinister, lowering settings, attendant by Bernard Herrmann’s sonorous score, JANE EYRE shoulders on as an old castle mystery, until Edward slowly dismantles his callous, cynical carapace, and reveals a scintilla of tendresse, Jane finds solace and affection gushing outward, but still puts a strong footing in upholding her self-regard when Edward past (Jane can also viscerally share the experience of detrimental religious clout) stymies their union, Brontë’s Victorian spirit of a self-loving woman takes its full shape in Fontaine’s flinty farewell, her tremulous figure athwart a towering Welles, begging her to stay.

While, one might quibble that Fontaine’s comeliness doesn’t wholly befit Jane’s self-claimed plainness, her performance speaks for itself, case-hardened by the school of hard knocks, her Jane purveys a profuse air of integrity, composure and self-knowledge on top of all the primping celluloid glamor of Hollywood’s usual M.O. and her trademark image of daintiness and timidity; for Welles, still in upstanding physique which can justly pass as a matinee idol at the age of 28 (is he wearing a prosthetic nose or is that make-up artists’ flight of craftsmanship?), his rendering of Edward holds well enough against Fontaine’s strenuous restraint, sometimes his delivery might edge towards operatics, but at large, it doesn’t tarnish this highly watchable work of one of the most famous female creation from British literature.

referential entries: William Wyler’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939, 7.9/10); Cary Joji Fukunaga’s JANE EYRE (2011, 7.8/10); Robert Stevenson’s MARRY POPPINS (1964. 7.4/10).

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