Jane Eyre secures a job as governess to the child (Margaret O'Brien) of the troubled Edward Rochester, sire of Thornfield, a mysterious English manor. When she hears strange cries and noises from a distant wing, her inquir... more »ies are rebuffed. As time goes on, Jane and her master fall in love and decide to marry. But their halted when a visitor suddenly reveals the shocking secret that Rochester has kept for years.« less
A Romantic Gothic Classic Brought Vividly To Life On The Big
Jana L. Perskie | New York, NY USA | 08/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was induced to read Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," a beloved literary classic, at the relatively early age of eleven - all because I saw this movie. I stayed-up late on a Saturday night, with my favorite aunt as company, and we watched the 1944 version of Jane Eyre, with Jane Fontaine and Orson Welles, on TV. At the conclusion, I noticed I had cried my way through a box of tissues and had become a fan forever. The next day I visited the library. Although I have seen three or four cinematic interpretations of "Jane Eyre" since that time, Director Robert Stevenson's production, co-written for the screen by Aldous Huxley, John Houseman, and Mr. Stevenson is by far my favorite. The writers and director remained faithful to Miss Bronte's magnificent work and brought this darkly gothic drama to life on the big screen. Filmed in black and white, using noir techniques from the German Expressionist school, (chiaroscuro lighting, surrealistic settings, etc.), the movie's gothic nature is emphasized and a forbidding mood is set early on. I always wondered if Orson Welles had anything to do with the direction. I sense his influence throughout the piece.
The story is set in England's North Country in the mid-nineteenth century. Orphaned as an infant, Jane (Peggy Ann Garner as young Jane), is taken in and cared for by her aunt, the mean spirited Mrs. Reed of Gateshead Hall, (Agnes Moorehead is superb as Mrs Reed). It is clear from the beginning that Mrs. Reed favors her own spoiled children and despises Jane, punishing her harshly for her perceived impudence and "willfulness." After a particularly cruel and unjust episode with her fat, older cousin, John, Aunt Reed locks the ten year-old girl up in the dreaded "red-room," where her uncle died. Jane has a nervous fit as a consequence of being enclosed in a place she so fears. But not even the caring servant, Bessie, (Sara Allgood), consoles her. She tells the child, "And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missus kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and try to make yourself agreeable to them."
Mrs. Reed, no longer willing to cope with her niece, sends her away to board at the prison-like Lowood School, where the food is poor and insufficient and the children are treated with inhuman severity." Mr. Brocklehurst, (Henry Daniell), the headmaster, an evangelic hypocrite, deprives his charges of basic necessities, while lining his pockets with charitable donations. There is some goodness, however, even at Lowood. The kindly school superintendent mentors Jane and shows her affection. And Helen Burns, another student at Lowood, becomes her first friend. Jane is captivated by learning. Her intelligence becomes obvious to all, and despite the suffering she experiences at the institution, once her education is complete, she chooses to stay on and teach.
One of the most amazing aspects of the vivid early scenes at Gateshead Hall and Lowood is that childhood, as we now understand it, simply did not exist in the 19th century. Children were seen as miniature adults, easily corrupted and inadequate, in need of stern education, discipline, and occasional corporeal punishment. Jane's strength of character becomes evident in that she is able to thrive in such sorry, often brutal, circumstances.
After gaining some experience as a teacher, Jane (Joan Fontaine), places an advertisement in the local newspaper for a position as governess. She is offered a job at Thornfield Manor, where she is received by kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Edith Barrett). Her young charge, the precocious Adele Varens, (an adorable Margaret O' Brien), is the ward of Thornfield's owner, Edward Rochester, (Orson Welles), a brooding, passionate man with a dark past he cannot escape. He travels frequently, but when he does return and meets Jane, there is an immediate connection between the two, although there remains the great difference in their social class and ages - he is a worldly-wise forty, and she a mere nineteen. At first the prim, unsophisticated governess is intimidated by the tempestuous Rochester. However, under Jane's gentle influence, the tormented man drops some of his forbidding facade and spends more time with the young woman, talking with her, confiding in her - to a point. And of course, there is a terrible secret, which inevitably will cause tremendous suffering. However, Rochester remains silent on the topic of any and all secrets. It is at Thornfield that we meet a wide range of characters who will effect Jane's future happiness. Among these formidable personages are: the bizarre Grace Poole, (Ethel Griffies), a hired woman who does the manor's sewing in a locked attic room. She seemingly drinks quantities of alcohol and, at times, fills one wing of the house with the sound of her terrifying laughter; Blanche Ingram, (Hillary Brooke), a well born, attractive woman, who has her cap set for Mr. Rochester. She and her society mother, show nothing but disdain for Jane; Mason, (John Abbot), has a terribly unfortunate effect on Jane and Rochester, as he is the bearer of tidings which will destroy all their dreams.
This is an extraordinary film - one of my favorites. Unlike her sisters, Charlotte rejected the convention of the beautiful heroine. While writing "Jane Eyre," she told them, "I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself." Ms. Fontaine, plays a shy, timid, plain Jane, who suffers silently - but she has an inner strength which will not allow her to turn away from her moral beliefs, no matter the consequences. She portrays bravery by overcoming her fears and doing, what she believes to be right, even though she and those she loves may be hurt by her decisions. Jane's and Edward's real attractiveness lie in their inner selves, and their capacity to love and grow, which makes them both such splendid figures.
"Jane Eyre" has many recurring themes including: relationships between men and women, their roles and limitations in society; relations between social classes; religion and morality; the need to fulfill the desires of loved ones versus the necessity to maintain one's personal integrity; the conflict between reason and passion, and, of course, Jane's deep need to love and be loved. However, primary to the tale is the magnificent, complex character of Jane herself.
Long before the women's suffrage movement, Miss Bronte created, in the character of Jane, an intelligent, independent, strong-willed female, determined to make her place in the world. What the persona of Jane addresses in the book, as well as in the film, is obvious in the following very famous lines: "Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
I cannot recommend this 1944 version of "Jane Eyre" highly enough and hope it comes out soon in DVD.
Do not miss this film!
A* | New York, N.Y. United States | 04/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, this movie is perfect. I have seen this film more than a few times and it never ceases to amaze me and it leaves me with a sense of complete joy when the viewing is over. Infact I have been found to rewind it right after i just got through watching it. The flick start with Jane Eye as a child who has to endure a torturous aunt and is forced to leave to a cruel and harsh boarding school wher she witnessess her classmates death. As the years past she matures into a demure lady who seeks employment out side of the school as a governess and is hired by Mr. Rodchester (Welles). Welles plays Rodchester in such an all out full on bravado that you never question while Fontaine as Eyre falls in love with him! As she setteles into the house as governess she learns that things are not as they seem! The shadows in the house seem to be alive! One night Eyre is awakend by the stir of footsteps and she soon finds Mr. Rodchester's bed ablaze! After the fire is out, one of the most romantic moments in film history takes place! It's not a kisss nor a hug not even a longing look - it's a HANDSHAKE! The embrace of Welles' massive hand over Fontaine's is purely entrancing! The brooding, sinister, darkly, tall and handsome Welles is matched by Fontaine's porcelin beauty! The glances and facial expressions they give each other through key scenes of dialogue will leave you weeping for days! But the film has a level of tension and suspense that is not overshadowed by the romance. The thrill of the house's secret resident and Welles' steps to keep it and his pain staking steps to take solice in his private pain is just a rush and keeps you biting your nails to the climax! An amazing film with such heart and nereve that it deserves to be in everyones collection! The atmospheric fog and tales of lust, jealously, intrigue and pure emotions are breathtaking!"
Overall Best film version of JANE EYRE
J. Kara Russell | Hollywood - the cinderblock Industrial cubicle | 07/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been having a "Jane Eyre-athon." There are many good versions of this gothic story of the fight between worldliness and virtue. Many have one really outstanding element, but this version, with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine remains overall the best. Like most, it eliminates much of the second half of the book, which is the really important part for Bronte, who is one of the finest religious thinkers of her age. There are so many bests in this version, it will always be hard to top for getting Bronte right.
This version was shot when black and white filmmaking was at it's best, and Fox was known as the best at noir/gothic, with velvety blacks, and really crisp lighting and shading. One thing that helps this film be better is that it has the best script (by Huxley, Stevenson and Houseman). The script transitions well, and really captures the major emotional elements of the story. This version also has the best child Jane (Peggy Ann Gardner). I agree with many that Zelah Clarke (Jane in the 1983 miniseries) is probably the definitive adult Jane, but Joan Fontaine is equally fine, and many people will simply not sit through the slow miniseries. Joan Fontaine has a real sense of refined restraint that seems very natural, and her strength is not so much in knowing she is strong, but overcoming her weakness. That is a very important mental/emotional component for getting Jane right.
Orson Welles is beefy and sexy, and plays every note of Rochester perfectly. If he is a bit too young for the role, that is the only flaw. While I feel that Cirian Hinds (the 1997 film version) is the best Rochester, Welles performance equals him. Once again, the striking dark haired beauty Blanche was cast with a platinum blonde, she is undeniably and great and striking beauty, and is the best of the Blanche - easy to see why men like her, and why women don't. Little Margaret O'Brien, who I usually find cloying and hammy is, of course, the perfect Adele, so we have the best Adele, too! She is absolutely convincingly the daughter of a diva, a dancer and coquette, and her "look at me" peskiness is just right for Adele.
The supporting roles, just simply nail the characters as described in the book, Broklehurst, Agnes Morehead as the Aunt, Mrs. Fairfax, and young Elizabeth Taylor as young Jane's friend all add up to make this a masterpiece. Having Bernard Herrmann do the score doesn't hurt a bit, either. (Film buffs will find it of interest that some of the exact themes and sound cues used in this film were also used again in Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST.)
See the 1934 version for a laugh and film history. See the 1983 miniseries to see the truest rhendition of the book. See the 1997 version for breathtaking color, scenery and Cirian Hinds' Rochester. See this to be fully satisfied. This is simply an exquisite film - filmmaking at its best in every respect; and while not as letter-perfectly definitive as the 1983 miniseries, I feel it is overall the best, truest version of JANE EYRE. "
Wonderful Screen Adaptation
Stephen Reginald | Chicago, IL United States | 02/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the great gothic novels of all time is translated to the screen featuring a wonderful performance by Joan Fontaine in the title role. Although not completely faithful to the novel, this version of Jane Eyre is one of the most enjoyable. The screenplay was written by three excellent writers: Aldous Huxley, Robert Stevenson (who also directs), and John Houseman. While not translating the novel exactly as written, this adaptation has captured its essence. The black and white cinematography is excellent, creating an eerie, foreboding atmosphere. The cast is uniformly good, with Peggy Ann Garner perfect as the young Jane. The shot of her standing in solitude on a stool as punishment is one of the most brilliant images ever put on film. And then there's a young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane's childhood friend, Helen. Still a relatively unknown young actress, Taylor doesn't even get on screen billing. After her tormented childhood, first with an unloving aunt, and then at the Lowood Institution for orphan girls, an adult Jane advertises her services as a governess. A servant of Edward Rochester (Orson Welles), master of Thornfield Hall, reads her advertisement and hires Jane to tend to Mr. Rochester's daughter Adele (Margaret O'Brien). When Jane meets Mr. Rochester, she doesn't know what to make of his unusual behavior, however, she seems drawn to him in spite of his seemingly aloof manner. What secrets are locked up in his heart? What is the mysterious whisperings and noises in the middle of the night? What goes on in the tower? If you're looking for an absolutely faithful adaptation of the novel, this version of Jane Eyre may disappoint you, but if you're looking for a film that is wonderfully acted and produced, you're in for a treat. Fontaine was on a streak when she made this film, having given wonderful characterizations throughout the early 1940s, starting with Rebecca. Welles does a good job in his first film role not directed or scripted by himself and is properly imposing as the dark Mr. Rochester. Director Stevenson does an excellent job tying it all together. Jane Eyre is a perfect example of the old studio system at its best: taking classic literature and fashioning it into popular entertainment."
BEST of all the versions of "Jane Eyre" ...!!!
Seen Them All | SoCal Desert | 01/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is absolutely the BEST of all the versions of "Jane Eyre" produced so far. Absolutely first rate! Highly recommend!! Jane Eyre is played by Joan Fontaine and Orsen Welles is Rochester. Jane's family dies and she is taken in by an aunt. She doesn't fit in and is sent to boarding school where she eventually graduates. She accepts a position as teacher/governess to French child being raised by Rochester. Only after she moves in does she discover things are not as they seem in the household. Very well done. Don't miss!! "