Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon: Jane Eyre (1934)

After I finished watching the 1943 version of Jane Eyre, I decided to look up how many more adaptions I had left to watch. To my surprise I discovered that an even earlier adaption was released in black and white just when talkies were wildly popular with the public. Since this is such an early version, I made up my mind to hold back any expectations or judgments and it's a good thing that I did.

Jane Eyre (1934)
Colin Clive as Mr. Rochester
Virginia Bruce as Jane Eyre
This adaption is only 1 hour and 2 minutes long!
Here is a link to the IMDb webpage:

Now normally this is the part where I talk about whether the adaption has primarily positive or negative traits in relation to the novel. Honestly, that's just not possible with this movie. Why?

The 1934 version has the bare bones of the story and then takes a ton of liberties with the plot to the point where the story is hardly recognizable. The plot was so ridiculous at some points that all I could really do was laugh hysterically. I couldn't harbor any resentment or anger for the creation of this adaption because unlike the 1943 version, I don't think the maker of this adaption took themselves or the source material too seriously. 

Before I get into my discussion, which will be largely plot based, I urge anyone familiar with the plotline of Jane Eyre to watch this adaption. It's only a hour long and I bet you'll laugh as much as I did. Still on the fence?  Here's the complete movie on YouTube

  • To start off with, aside from the similar names, none of the characters really match up with their literary counterparts. Case in point:

When I read about the poor, obscure, plain, and little Jane Eyre I totally imagined a buxom blonde who happens to have an endless supply of frilly dresses to wear around Thornfield. Additionally, Rochester's character has been completely changed. Now he is a rather friendly and polite man who doesn't make an effort to hide the fact that he harbors romantic feelings for his governess. Adele is no longer a french girl and she is Rochester's precocious niece that just happens to get herself stuck in any number of items. My personal favorite has to be the scene where Adele falls into a large vase and proceeds to scream until Jane completely destroys the vase. Grace Poole is now a married woman, whose husband Samuel somehow keeps this hastily crafted movie together. He is the one to warn Jane to lock her door at night and he is the one to inform Jane near the end of the movie about the fire at Thornfield. Let's not forget the hilarious portrayal of the ever radiant Blanche Ingram:
That awkward moment when Jane Eyre is prettier than Blanche Ingram
  • Some observant readers will notice that I left out a rather important character in the previous paragraph. Well, I decided that this film's portrayal of Bertha deserved its own bullet-point. So first off, Bertha's "madness" and her marriage to Rochester really isn't that big of a deal in this movie. In fact, in this version everything can just be solved with an annulment. 

For the majority of this movie, Rochester is just waiting for the annulment from his solicitor, but oh shucks it doesn't arrive before Rochester and Jane's wedding ceremony. Even Bertha's madness is portrayed in a ridiculous and weirdly comedic way. Let me describe the scene for you. Jane has just finished cheerily informing everyone that none of her family will be attending the wedding (aka "I'm totally happy and not the least bit depressed that all of my family members are dead"). Amid the pre-wedding ceremony discussions Bertha just happens to wander into the room. I'd just like to point out that this Bertha doesn't appear to be mad, so much as absent-minded. She casually observes everyone in the room and then calmly asks "Oh Edward, are we getting married again?" Then the confused Bertha is calmly lead back to her room. 

  • There is also no historical accuracy at all in this version, which by now really shouldn't shock you. First, Thornfield is not a gothic manor, but rather a quaint and extravagantly decorated country home. Next, the dialogue is full of slang phrases and the kind of informality you wouldn't expect from Victorian England. My favorite example of this is when Jane encounters Rochester for the first time on his horse. After Rochester learns that Jane is headed to Thornfield Hall (that's right she hasn't even been to Thornfield yet when she meets him), he proceeds to ask her "Well, what are 'ya gonna do there?" Jane's reply: "As if it's any of your business. I'm the new governess." Now that is some beautifully written Victorian dialogue.

  • This film has even gone out of its way to include some vomit inducing romantic cliches that only add to the ridiculousness of the narrative. The one example that sticks out in my mind is Jane writing about her feelings for Mr. Rochester in what is essentially a diary. I screen-capped one of the entries for your viewing pleasure:

Here are a couple more random observations/plot alterations that I noticed while watching this adaptation:
  • Like the 1943 adaption this movie shows a page presumably right out of the book Jane Eyre, but the text displayed is, of course, not accurate
  • The child actress that they chose to portray young Jane was so horrible in so many ways, the most obvious being that she is waaaaaayyyyyyy too old for the part. Young Jane is also kind of mean and bratty, so much so that I was kind of glad she got shipped off to Lowood. Her childhood was cut down to so little that the audience isn't given enough time or content to develop sympathetic feelings towards her
  • Audiences are shown one scene of Jane as a teacher at Lowood in which she stands up to Brocklehurst, calls him a crocodile for some reason and then...get this...proudly informs a fellow teacher that her joblessness is totally fine because she still has some of the inheritance left to her by her uncle.
  • One incredibly questionable aspect to this movie yet again deals with Bertha's function in the story. Audiences learn that Bertha's supposed "madness" is enough to lock her in a different wing of the house and to arrange a relatively secret annulment, yet when Mr. Rochester's bed is set fire to by Bertha, the first question he asks Jane is why she didn't bother to go get any help.
  •  The cherry on top of this ridiculous movie sundae has to be the scene where Rochester tricks Jane into picking out gifts for his future wife and helping him decorate his wife's room in Thornfield. Since Blanche really isn't given much of a character, it's so obvious that Rochester wants Jane to be his wife. Despite that the audience gets the privilege of enduring Jane's shock and disbelief.
I've you're looking for a movie adaption that is completely faithful to the source material, you should probably stay as far away from this film as possible. It is important to note though that the 1934 version of Jane Eyre has the unique quality of being so bad that it's actually quite hilarious at some moments.

While there are plenty more Jane Eyre adaptions to critique, my next post will actually be another book review. Until then, Best Wishes!!
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