Sunday, May 4, 2014

Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon: Jane Eyre (1943)

Welcome to another installment of the Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon where I endeavor to watch and review the many adaptions of the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Since I don't currently have a solid 5 hours to devote to one of the more comprehensive versions, I decided to watch another shorter adaption.

Jane Eyre (1943)
Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester
Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre
This adaption has a runtime of 1 hour and 37 minutes
Here is a link to the IMDb webpage

I mentioned that I would be doing this review a couple of posts back and to be honest I've avoided it like a plague. About a year ago I watched this adaption and had a pretty horrific yelling at the tv bad. I decided to set aside all of those previous feelings and have an open mind when watching the movie again. Let's just say my reaction wasn't that different.

There really wasn't a single part of this movie that I enjoyed and honestly I think this is another one of the worst adaptions. Normally I list the pros here, but for obvious reasons that won't/can't happen. Instead, I'll just make a note of something that surprised me...................

Elizabeth Taylor!!! What are you doing here? Her portrayal of Helen wasn't half bad, so that's kind of a pro.

Aside from that I really have nothing nice to say about this adaption, so prepare yourself for some complaining and nitpicking.

  • One aspect of the 1943 adaption that sets it apart from the rest is that it does acknowledge the textual origins of the movie. While Fontaine provides her narration as Jane, the screen shows a page full of text presumably from Jane Eyre. Anyone that has actually read the book will quickly realize that it isn't the original text from the book. Bummer.
  • I found the portrayal of Brocklehurst's character to be rather repellent, but not in a good way. This movie also made the decision to portray him as the villain of the narrative. At first he seemed like the hypocritical, religious prick that I've come to know in the book. Then it just got weird. Apparently Helen gets sick and dies because Brocklehurst makes her stay outside in the cold and rainy weather for too long. This COMPLETELY ignores the typhus outbreak at Lowood. Additionally, for some reason the malevolent Brocklehurst tries to make Jane stay at Lowood to teach for the rest of her life.
  • Have you ever wondered what Jane Eyre would be like if the gothic elements were emphasized to the max? Well looks like you're in luck. If I could describe the production of this movie in two words it would be "oppressively ominous." There is a highly theatrical element that makes it very difficult to watch. You can tell that the majority of this film was made with painted sets that while beautifully created prevents the movie from being grounded in any actualized setting or reality. It only distanced me from the film. The black and white cinematography also incredibly alienated me as a viewer. Most of the scenes were obscured in blackness or shadows. Not to mention for the majority of the movie the actors faces had this lighting
There would be random bursts of lighting that were so ridiculous and let's not forget the TONS AND TONS of fog used. The overwrought production doesn't end there! They decided to add some horrifically ominous, overdone music into the mix. I can't even right now!! Every time Rochester traveled somewhere or left the scene it was accompanied by shrieking string instruments. I would have gladly taken the mournful oboe music that I previously complained about. All I'm really trying to say is that this movie had an unending and oppressive gothic tone that prevents you from even enjoying the movie just a little bit. There were no comic relief scenes or romantic interludes. It affected me so much that after 45 minutes I seriously couldn't take the movie anymore that I had to stop watching it for the night and continue the rest of it the next day.

  • Orson Welles' acting in general was also really horrifying to say the least. I know some of you may balk at that statement because he has a pretty big reputation as far as actors go, but...

I know Rochester is supposed to be dark and brooding, but Welles seems to mistake those adjectives for expressionless and shouty. Seriously, he doesn't display any emotion on his face. Only his lips move. He also forgets to enunciate when giving dialogue, so if you aren't concentrating hard enough on what he has to say, it all sounds like a mumbling mess. In scenes that actually require some emotion on his part, all Welles does is shout his dialogue. As a result of his general lack of emotion, there is no believable chemistry between Welles and Fontaine. Additionally, when Rochester is introduced in the narrative, he completely dominates it. It got to the point where I wondered whether it would have been more appropriate to title this movie "Mr. Rochester" and not "Jane Eyre." Honestly, the adult Jane fades into the background and the story is never really about her life at all.

  • In this post I've made a conscious effort not to get too nitpicky in regards to the accuracy of the plot, but I really have to point this one change out. In this adaption Jane never has an encounter with the Rivers. Instead, audiences are presented with the random character Dr. Rivers in Jane's childhood who pops in and out offering the young Jane support and advice, while also chiding Brocklehurst now and then. For some reason this change really bothered me and I would rather have had them just cut out the Rivers altogether. 
  • I can't resist complaining about Welles acting some more. In fact I'd like to give you a little bit of insight into the kind of notes I took during this movie. My favorite has to be about the scene where Jane hears Rochester's voice calling to her out of nowhere. This is the note I wrote verbatim: Welles' monotone "Jane, Jane, Jane" = "It seemed the cry of a soul in pain" BULLSHIT!!!!!!
Could I go on and talk about the relative merit of the secondary characters or how certain scenes compared to other adaptions? I could, but I won't. I just can't stand to spend one more minute of my time on this terrible movie. Essentially, this is how I feel right about now

Please, please don't waste any of your time on this adaption, particularly if you really loved the book. Despite the general negativity of this post, I'm happy to say that I've already started the next Watch-a-thon post and it'll be more lighthearted in nature. YAY!! As always, Best Wishes! 
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