Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eyre-athon: Jane Eyre (1944)

Since I finally finished Jane Eyre in preparation for the new Fassbender-iffic adaptation that is coming out this upcoming Friday I felt that now would be a good time as any to discover the adaptations that have come along thus far.  Much like Wuthering Heights, I find that adaptations of Jane Eyre tend to be near-complete misfires.  I'm hoping that revisiting some of these after many years--and discovering some for the first time--will change my perception of them.

First up...
Jane Eyre (dir. Robert Stevenson, 1944)

Orson Welles makes a terrible Rochester.  I'm a lover of Welles as both an actor and director, but I find his Rochester to be too cruel to Jane and too petulant to be seen as a love interest of any woman.  Nevermind that he's expected to entice the audience as well so that we see him as the natural match to mousy Jane.  yes Rochester is supposed to be cold.  Yes he's supposed to be temperamental and difficult.  Yes he's supposed to not have a genuine interest in Jane at first.  But there needs to be glimmers of real humanity in him, and there is rarely a slice of it.  Joan Fontaine is perfectly fine as Jane Eyre but she's a tad too old for the part and it's quite noticeable.  I do wish that she hadn't played Jane's timidity so strongly and had focused on her strength of character.  When she's at Thornfield by 20 minutes in it doesn't really give the child actors a chance to establish real characters. The fatal flaw of this film is that problem: haste.
Jane (Joan Fontaine) and Rochester (Orson Welles)
This film is all of 98 minutes long, and it flies by all too fast.  Whilst normally I'd compliment a film on getting its story in such a short time-frame, it's hard with a story that needs so much setting-up to be so rushed.  On top of the time at Gateshead and Lowood being very short there never is a good connection between Jane and Rochester made.  It always feels forced and like it's being shoe-horned in to a character study of a governess.  That's really what the novel is about, but this film wants so desperately to be a romance between its leads.  For all its romantic yearnings it never spends the time building the relationship that needs to be built. A fantastic Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns is quickly lobbed off, and St. John and his story arc is amputated.  These are all things I didn't necessarily need, but the filmmakers don't take all the freedom they have after chopping off these things and then spending it on developing the relationships and dynamic.  
Helen Burns and a young Jane
The one thing that I fully enjoyed about the film was Margaret O'Brien as Adele Varens.  Not only is her French accent near-perfect and adorable, she plays the character with such conviction and childlike enthusiasm so as to leap off the screen.  For a child actor to create a full-blooded character in the less time that her adult stars can't create their own?  That is a major feat.  O'Brien is also quite amazing in Meet Me in St. Louis and Little Women, even earning an honorary Oscar for her abilities as a child-actor.  Kudos, Margaret, KUDOS!  She's so great.  And so fabulous in her pink ballet costume.  I died.

Grade: C (Feels a tad harsh but it misfires on so many levels.)

4 comments:

  1. I quite enjoyed Orson Welles as Rochester, but the whole film is so incredibly melodramatic, and Joan Fontaine's Jane doesn't seem to quite have the fighting spirit she should have.

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  2. Yeah, I thought Fontaine's Jane was far too passive, and arguably the most interesting quality about Jane is her convictions and willingness to stand up for herself, and that is completely lost. Especially since Welles Rochester is so brutish! It's like the wolf devouring the lamb! Creepy.

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  3. Oh yeah, very much so. But I still "definitely would", if you know what I mean. *giggle*

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  4. Haha, I would too Traxy, I would too. For a man that Hollywood deemed unattractive he is quite alluring in this film! Hot.

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