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Entertaining and engaging adaption of a gothic classic
maxwellhoffmann22 August 2001
A thoroughly engaging adaption of the brooding classic, this film rises above the turgid tone often imposed on other classics brought to the screen. Joan Fontaine turns in a brilliantly deceptively understated performance, and Orson Welles restrains from the scenery chewing that marred some of his own projects; there is surprising chemistry between them. At times, Welles is a downright "sexy" leading man! The script (credited to John Houseman and Aldous Huxley) captures the right "tone" of Victorian cruelty and repression.

Under Robert Stevenson's direction Fontaine/Welles seem to capture the essence of two abused outsiders resisting their attraction for one another, trying to adhere to convention. A strong supporting cast. There are brief though memorable appearances by Agnes Moorehead, Elizabeth Taylor and Peggy Ann Garner as "young" Jane.

George Barnes' camera captures appropriately stark images of Ross Dowd and Thomas Little's sets. Charlotte Bronte's grim novel is well suited to the excellent B/W, cinematography: a memorable scene early in the film has young Jane being punished by being forced to stand on a stool that is nearly in the center of a fan of shadows cast by the stair railing, It is almost reminiscent of expressionist German films of the Weimar years.

The film manages to entertain as well as inform. Purists may object to the last 3 lines of the film which hint at a slightly happier denouement than the book offered. In spite of that, Jane Eyre is still a nearly flawless film.
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Fine Cast in a Pretty Good Adaptation
Snow Leopard31 July 2001
This version of the classic novel is most distinguished by its fine cast. The adaptation itself is pretty good, although the first part (Jane's childhood) comes across better than the main part of the film. The original novel is a complex story and character study, and it would be quite a job to squeeze everything into a film of under two hours - all things considered, this version does a pretty good job despite eliminating some significant parts of the book.

There are a lot of fine actors in the cast, and Orson Welles is ideal for the role of Rochester. Joan Fontaine is good too as (the adult) Jane, although the character in this version is somewhat less interesting than in the novel, so she has less to work with than Welles does. There are some fine performances in the early part of the movie, and some excellent casting, including Agnes Moorehead as Jane's mean-spirited aunt, the icy Henry Daniell as Brocklehurst, and a young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane's school friend Helen. That part of the film works perfectly.

Although the last part is not quite as effective, overall the movie still offers several good reasons to watch it. You get to see a fine cast in action, and if the film is not the masterpiece that the novel was, it's a good picture and certainly worth seeing.
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Beautiful, classic film!
Mandice7 November 2001
Reading the novel before seeing the movie, I had my own ideas about the characters of Miss Bronte's book. The movie leaves quite a bit of the story out, but dutifully makes up for it with a strong actors and incredible cinematography.

Joan Fontaine portrays the shy, demure Jane Eyre. (or is she?) I always believed this was the story of a woman forced to be what society felt a woman should be. Once Jane becomes the governess of Mr. Rochester's ward, she feels free to be the woman she truly is: strong-willed, opinionated and passionate.

Truly, they just don't make movies like this anymore. Not just a love story, this is a tale of finding oneself and realizing one's true destiny.
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The closest thing to a sequel to 'Citizen Kane'
wall1717 April 2003
Well, either Orson had a lot to do with this movie's production directly, or he had at least one early acolyte in director Robert Stevenson. A handful of Mercury Theatre/Kane actors holdover here, as well as a score by the great Bernard Herrman.

It's hard to describe which is the most jaw-dropping surprise in this movie: the Kane-esque gothic expressionism of the cinematography, or the stunning acting performances. Welles plays probably the most romantic leading role of his career as the brooding Rochester, while Fontaine postively glows in an understated turn as the title character. Of particular note are two child actors: Peggy Ann Garner, as the young Jane, who has a brief but dazzling turn to open the picture, and who was better known shortly thereafter for her lead in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; and the never-yet-equaled Margaret O'Brien, the oscar-winner who played 'Tootie' in 'Meet Me in St. Louis' as Rochester's ward and Jane's charge. Oh, and nearly incidentally, one of Elizabeth Taylor's first performances, as Jane's doomed friend Helen.

One can only speculate how the history of film would've been different had Welles somehow started a trend in Hollywood story-telling like that of this rendition of 'Jane Eyre'. He certainly had enough classics pitched in his early and still hopeful days in Hollywood, and this film, whether or not he deserve direct credit for it, is one of the strongest -- and, despite the pacing, most concise -- retellings of a literary classic in film history. Without too much hyperbole, it's as if Charlotte Brontë were on the level of Shakespeare and Fontaine and Welles forgotten archetypes of deep myth. It's not a stretch to say that this film version is far more accessible to the modern sensibility than the book itself is, without losing the period feel and contemporary feeling of the original text.

8/10, a forgotten classic.
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Are you always drawn to the loveless and unfriended?
Spikeopath23 July 2011
Jane Eyre is directed by Robert Stevenson who co-adapts the screenplay with John Houseman, Aldous Huxley and Henry Koster. Based on the Charlotte Brontë novel of the same name, it stars Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine and Peggy Ann Garner. Music is scored by Bernard Herrmann and George Barnes is the cinematographer.

After a harsh and eye opening childhood, orphan Jane Eyre gains employment at Thornfield Hall as governess to the young ward of Edward Rochester. A Difference in class and life outlook, Jane and Rochester are by definition polar opposites, but a bond exists, a bond that surely can't conquer the mysteries of Rochester the man, and the secret of his estate - can it?

Stevenson's version of the often filmed Jane Eyre has been pored over numerous times before, the constant question that arises is that of just how much input and work did Orson Welles have in the production? Knowing what we now know of Welles' 40s output, Jane Eyre undeniably has the Wellesian stamp all over it, with Fontaine herself quoted as saying the big man was often found behind the camera. This is not to decry Stevenson in any way, he himself would carve out a good career in directing further down the line, but this take on Brontë's famous novel shines because of Welles' presence in front and behind the camera.

With that comes one of only two quibbles with the film as a whole, namely it's Welles' portrayal of Rochester that dominates the film, and not that of Fontaine's Eyre. Which is quite staggering considering he doesn't enter the fray until 34 minutes into ty epic. The other problem, naturally, is that with a running time of just over an hour and thirty five minutes, it was never going to be a detailed adaptation of the novel. However, what exists is still an excellent mounted production, a film pulsing with aggressive atmospherics and simmering emotional passions.

It has been argued that the opposing acting styles of Fontaine and Welles are a distraction, I don't see it that way at all, as one of classic cinemas greatest voices emotionally spars with one of its most beautiful faces, this is monochrome gold dust. In mind of the difference of characters as written on the page, it actually comes off as inspired casting. With the production that surrounds them perfectly in keeping with the characters' state of mind.

The look is assuredly what would become known as film noir, with George Barnes' (Rebecca/Spellbound/Force of Evil) vivid black and white photography dovetailing splendidly with the matte paintings and Gothic set designs. It still amazes me to this day that this film was entirely produced on stage 2 at 20th Century Fox. So many images burn into the memory. From the shards of shadows that accompany young Jane as she stands on the punishment stool at Lowood Institution, put there by the despotic Henry Brocklehurst (a menacing Henry Daniell), to each chiaroscuro lit composition of Rochester in and around the oppressive like family home, the film has visual moodiness in abundance.

Herrmann's (The Devil and Daniel Webster/Citizen Kane) score is crucially in tune as well. Orchestral swirls to portray Jane's longing are counter pointed by the menacing down beats that attack the viewer for Rochester's bluster. Away from the two leads it's young Peggy Ann Garner who delivers the most telling performance. She gives the child version of Jane a sorrowful edge that sets the tone of the film, her early scenes with an uncredited Elizabeth Taylor (beautiful and effectively correct in vocals) are a lesson in child acting. The rest of the cast is filled out with admirable performances from Margaret O'Brien (Meet Me in St. Louis), John Sutton (Captain from Castille), Sara Allgood (The Lodger) and Agnes Moorehead (The Magnificent Ambersons).

This may not be a definitive Jane Eyre adaptation, and the compromised ending does knock it down a point, but all told it's still a top piece of classic cinema. 9/10
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Romantic, atmospheric and finely acted. While it takes many liberties with the cherished Bronte novel, it definitely captures its mood and spirit.
jem13211 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is an excellent film production of JANE EYRE, perhaps the best ever put to the screen. While I enjoyed the more faithful BBC 206 production, this one is my favourite. Brilliantly filmed in haunting black-and-white, Stevenson's JANE EYRE is atmospheric, romantic and enormously entertaining.

Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine are the two principal characters, Jane and Rochester. Fontaine brings her usual quiet skill, grace, subtlety and intelligence to Jane. While she is, of course, much too beautiful for a "poor, plain Jane Eyre", she captures Jane's soul. Welles, even if he does overact, IS Rochester. Toby Stephens was memorable in the 2006 version, yet in his emotional scenes reduced Rochester to a whining child-man (I blame the "Method" partially for this). Welles, with his booming voice, unusual looks and charisma, is all man. Welles and Fontaine have a chemistry that quietly simmers away, until their passion is fully expressed(with an embrace) in the final scene.

The early scenes of Jane's childhood are memorably stark, with Peggy Ann Garner, a truly brilliant child actress, making an excellent young Jane. Look at the caliber of actors in this film. Welles, Fontaine and Garner are just three. We also have Agnes Moorehead, Henry Daniell (perfectly cast as Mr Brocklehurst), Sara Allgood and two other great child actresses, Margaret O'Brien and Elizabeth Taylor. What a cast!

The look of the film is perhaps the most memorable component of all. This seems to be an unusual production for Fox Studios, who at that time were producing mainly film noir and contemporary-themed subject matter. JANE EYRE invokes incredible atmosphere- the unearthly moment where Peggy Ann Garner cries over her young friend's grave in the foggy cemetery, Welles first appearance on horseback and the moodiness of Thornfield Hall. Bernard Hermann's score contributes finely to the production, and I have a feeling that, even though Stevenson was a good director, some of the film's best camera-work and visuals were contributed by Orson Welles. One shot in particular comes to mind- Peggy Ann Garner standing on the chair, alone, as lines fall cross the frame and the shadow of Elizabeth Taylor slowly moves towards her.

How spoiled audiences were in the Golden Age of Hollywood. In 1939 they had the excellent production of WUTHERING HEIGHTS, with Olivier as Heathcliff. Both films audaciously threw away the second half of their source material, yet are true classics.

On a side note, I wonder if David Lean was influenced by this film in his decision to make his famous Dickens production GREAT EXPECTATIONS, later followed by OLIVER TWIST. Certainly the incredible mood produced here seems to be imitated by Lean in his two films.
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Charlotte Bronte's Byronic Hero
theowinthrop14 May 2006
If you remember any novel at all of Charlotte Bronte, it is JANE EYRE, her romance of a struggling governess who falls in love with a wealthy, mysterious land - owner whose ward needs an educator. It is the story that has been filmed most often of all of Bronte's novels (three films and a series, as opposed to only one series based on VILLETTE and none for SHIRLEY or THE PROFESSOR). It is not as overpowering in it's appeal as her sister Emily's WUTHERING HEIGHTS, but it is (for most people) a good romantic novel. It is also one of the few Victorian novels that is read today (in fact, it was used in an episode of FRIENDS, when Phoebe and Rachel are supposed to be in a literature night school class).

What was unique about the novel when it was published in 1847 was that it was rare for a novel to be told from the perspective of lowly governess, and about unrequited love for her employer. This was really hot stuff for Victorian England (though not as hot as Heathcliff and Cathy running wild on the moors of Yorkshire). The novel also gave Charlotte Bronte a chance to even one old score. The business about her being sent to the school run by Henry Brocklehurst was based on Charlotte's personal feelings about a school she had been sent to that was run by one William Carus Wilson. She felt Wilson was a hypocrite and tyrant (this view has been disputed by scholars researching Bronte since the 19th Century).

This is the best known version of the novel, but it is not as complete a version as one imagines. The early part of the novel, showing how Jane's aunt Mrs. Reed and her son John bully Jane (as a poor relation) is cut (John doesn't even have any lines). Henry Daniell is effective as Brocklehurst, in that his religious tyranny over his students is shown, but the hypocrisy of his behavior (in the novel his wife and daughters are fashionably dressed, as opposed to the girls in his school) is not commented upon. The subplot concerning the Rivers cousins is not included in the film. Possibly this is wise, as it concentrates the narrative to Jane's hiring by Edward Rochester, her growing love for her "Byronic" employer, and her discovering of the shattering secret that derails their marriage.

When the film was made Joan Fontaine was at the height of her career as a movie star. She had won her Oscar for best actress in SUSPICION only three years before. She fit the role of the quiet "plain Jane" heroine quite well. But in her memoirs NO BED OF ROSES she reveals that she did not like this film. Her co-star got on her nerves. Orson Welles did the role of Rochester because he was trying to demonstrate to Hollywood producers that he was quite a good actor, even if he was not directing as he wanted. But, as it turned out, he got involved in the production of the film - and he had some clashes with Fontane whom he thought was a spoiled star. That their scenes together worked is amazing.

Of the others in the cast, the two I find most interesting are Elizabeth Taylor as the ill-fated Helen Burns, Jane's closest friend at Brocklehurst's school. It is a small part, but the beautiful young Taylor makes it heart-breaking. But also note the performance of Hillary Brooke as the fortune - hunting Blanche Ingram, who summarizes the reason for her defeat in this movie while playing billiards with her parents: "GOVERNESSES, MAMA!!"
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My 2nd Favorite Jane Eyre
aernest24 February 2008
Well, since I seem to be determined to comment on every version of Jane Eyre, here goes! This is my second-favorite Jane Eyre, running very close to the Timothy Dalton/Zelah Clarke version. This film definitely LOOKS better than the newer one, since the newer one was a TV miniseries with, let us say, flawed production values. Other commentators complained about the darkness of the film, but hey, it's JANE EYRE! It's a Gothic novel! What did they expect? Welles is SUPERB - in spots he is better than Dalton, and, oddly, I think he's rather sexier in this role. He really DOES show the charm that would have attracted Jane to him. SO why do I like Dalton's version better? Well, #1, it has a better Jane. Joan Fontaine doesn't hold a candle to Zelah Clarke in the role. And #2 - the Dalton version is longer and so, stays closer to the book. Dalton himself excels, but in a much different way than Welles. Welles' Rochester is definitely more world-weary, and maybe not quite so petulant, though both qualities are in keeping with Rochester's character in the book. If you only have two hours, maybe THIS is the one to watch!
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Excellent shadows
Spleen16 February 2002
Stevenson isn't willing to let us forget that his film is based on a book. The first thing we see a leather-bound volume with the title "Jane Eyre" emblazoned on the cover; the book opens to reveal the film's credits exquisitely lettered on the opening pages. We're in danger of falling in love with the book as an object before the story even begins. By the time Joan Fontaine had finished reading out Brönte's opening paragraph, with the sentences themselves before me, I was in no mood to watch the movie - I wanted to go away and read the book.

Yet when it's not reminding us that it's at heart a version of something else, it's a very good film, falling not too far short of David Lean's "Oliver Twist" - which it resembles. Both films were shot almost entirely in the studio, yet don't feel studio-bound; they feel rather as though the directors had managed to find unusually claustrophobic out-of-door (or, in Lean's case, urban) locations. In both films a portion of every frame is consumed by impenetrable shadow. (Yet "Eyre" is detailed, and makes the best possible use of every frame.) Both films take place around in a callous England of the 1920s. (I got the impression that if Brönte's characters had for some reason gone to London they would have encountered Dickens's, although this impression was destroyed when the rich Londoners visit Rochester's castle.) Both films manage to be sentimental in an agreeable way. Both have excellent musical scores. In fact, this may be Herrmann's best score of the 1940s, certainly better than the one he wrote for "Citizen Kane", which is seems better than it is because the film as a whole is a masterpiece.

If you can, make sure you see a print with a pristine soundtrack. Orson Welles isn't always easy to understand.
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A masterpiece!
Dave Godin18 May 2003
Magnificent is the only word that can be applied to this remarkable film. It represents Hollywood's ability to make the occasional brilliant movie when all aspects of the film-making craft come together in such talented union. JANE EYRE can hardly be faulted in any single department; the outstanding acting performances; not only of the principle characters, but right down the line to even the smallest part; the superlative score by Bernard Herrmann; splendid photography and art direction; but above all, a script that sparkles with literate dialogue and which unfolds the narrative with such consummate skill. I first saw this film as a very young child, and it gripped and enthralled me then as it still does all these years later. Romantic, gothic and mesmerising, it is as near faultless as it is possible for any movie to be.
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a brooding,windswept moors-type film
dmsorge10 July 2004
I found Joan Fontaine's performance as Jane Eyre as one of the more satisfying of her career,in that she was less histrionic than usual.I thought of her as not-to-the manor-born,but could,and did,achieve the position of governess in that social register of Edward Rochester by being quiet,smiling,and,in the words of Spencer Tracy,"don't bump into the furniture." Of course,Jane learned harshly,in her youth,the hard,cold facts of life.Mr.Rochester was enough to scare the wits out of any delicate woman like Jane.But,she was quiet,smiling,and didn't bump into the furniture,and,thereby,won his respect--and love.She could play the piano--and speak French,too.That helped to cement their relationship.Miss Fontaine's performance was gentle and in perfect pitch.Orson Welles' performance was an interesting study of character development,from over-bearing--even rude,to controlled kindness and deep concern for Jane's welfare.A fine film,good to watch.
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Beautiful adaptation
blanche-224 June 2006
Orson Welles hauls out his "Citizen Kane" corsets to become Mr. Rochester to Joan Fontaine's Jane Eyre in "Jane Eyre," a lavish 1944 adaptation of the book by Charlotte Bronte.

Jane is a poor orphan shuttled from one horrible situation to another -first the home of her cruel aunt (Agnes Moorhead), then to an orphanage run by Henry Brocklehurst. He announces to all that Jane is possessed by the devil and that no one should be involved with her. But one little girl, Helen Burns, played by an absolutely beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, befriends her. Alas, due to the inhumane treatment at the orphanage, Helen dies. With the help of the kind doctor to the orphans, Dr. Rivers (handsome John Sutton) Jane sticks it out at the orphanage to receive her education. When they offer her a teaching position there for pennies, she leaves to become the governess for little Adele (Margaret O'Brien) at Thornfield, the home of the mysterious, tormented Edward Rochester.

O'Brien was one of the most adorable child actors in films, and one of the best performers. Welles couldn't stand her because she was a scene stealer. Mary Astor confessed being afraid of her on "Meet Me in St. Louis." It's all lost on the audience, as she is wonderful.

Welles made a calculated decision to hire himself out as an actor to finance his film work. He makes a magnificent Mr. Rochester - romantic, angry, and magnetic. His resonant voice speaks the dialogue with conviction, and, at 27, he was able, with a little help, to cut a dashing figure, an advantage that didn't last too much longer. Fontaine is perfect as the subservient, shy, unloved Jane, her soft, plain appearance and breathless voice giving an overall air of dignity and true beauty - at once recognized by Mr. Rochester. There is, however, the matter of Grace Poole.

The film is atmospheric - in fact, it may be a tad on the overdone side, but the wind blowing on the moors, the storms, the lightning, the mausoleum-like, cold house all fit the darkness of Mr. Rochester's soul to perfection.

Truly there was no one in cinema history quite like Orson Welles - brilliant, eccentric, a profligate spender, and ultimately self-destructive, on the outs with Hollywood and unable to finish any of his later projects. The saddest thing in his biography is the dinner he has with Steven Spielberg, whose help he wants in getting a distributor. Spielberg instead approaches him like a fan and wants to talk about the great films, the great performances, and no offer of help is forthcoming. How heartbreaking for Welles to spend the next 40 years of his life competing with his old dazzling image.
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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 film-making 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 was not a glossy beauty, and was usually cast as "plain" despite her natural loveliness. She 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 rendition 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 – film-making 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.
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Competent adaptation of Bronte novel...overall effect uneven melodrama...
Doylenf13 April 2001
Watching 'Jane Eyre' is like watching two films. The first part seems so far removed from what follows and is easily the best part of the movie. We see a young Jane (Peggy Ann Garner) being placed by her cruel aunt in an orphanage run by wicked Mr. Brocklehurst (Henry Daniell at his most chilling). One of her schoolmates is a very young Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns, long dark curls and eyelashes revealing her to be very beautiful, even at an early age. And the wonderful John Sutton is the doctor who witnesses the brutal treatment of the girls at the school. All of this is conveyed in a brooding series of scenes, lit with low-key lighting and many atmospheric effects backed by Bernard Herrmann's moody background score. The second part of the story involving the mature Jane Eyre (Joan Fontaine) is less successful in keeping with the richness of detail shown earlier. Furthermore, Joan Fontaine is never fully convincing as the plain governness, demure and docile to an irritating degree. She plays the role so weakly that she is completely dominated by Orson Welles--overacting to the nth degree as Mr. Rochester--and the story is sent reeling off course to an unsatisfying conclusion. The structure of the film is so offset by the impressive first half-hour that the second part seems artificial by comparison. Excellent black and white photography cannot conceal the artificiality of the sets. All of the supporting performances are well acted. As usual, Agnes Moorehead does an outstanding job. Summing up: a nice try but not quite the film it should have been considering its source was a classic novel. And by the way, Joan Fontaine was not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for this one as someone previously stated.
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I love this movie (possible spoilers)
Lamia760917 November 2000
Warning: Spoilers
It was interesting reading the other comments on this film. One comment in particular struck me as funny. The assertion that this would be a better film with a lighter mood and happier music made me choke on my Sprite. This version is without a doubt the best. Orson Welles is incredible. His brooding and haunted demeanor make him the perfect Rochestor. Joan's quiet stubborn intelligence is beautiful. The fact that even after years of abuse at Lowood they hadn't managed to break her spirit is inspiring. Margaret O'Brian is darling. I love this film and the windswept, barren landscape. There should be a disclaimer though "Don't try this at home", because every woman knows what it's like to want to save a man; it bears testament to your abilities as a woman. This sort of endeavor is usually a big waste of time. I highly recommend this film and after all...I am.... "me". I have been in love with Orson for years I don't care how fat he got. His mind and talent far outweighed his fleshy form.
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Far more entertaining than I expected!
zetes19 October 2002
I love unexpected surprises. I was expecting a dull, 19th Century affair. Instead, I got one of the biggest melodramatic potboilers of all time. It's passionate, pulling me along and hardly letting me catch my breath. It's powerful, and it's actually hugely entertaining. Joan Fontaine plays the title character. Treated like garbage her whole life (we follow a few of her childhood adventures), Jane finally ends up in a tolerable place, hired as a governess. Well, it might not be Heaven, but Thornfield is, if nothing else, an interesting place. A cute, little French girl (Margaret O'Brien); an overbearing master of the house (Orson Welles); creepy halls; unexplained fires and a frightening entity hiding behind a gothic wooden door, bolted tightly shut. Heck, this film is a good 60% horror film. 1943's best film, I Walked with a Zombie, is also based on the novel Jane Eyre. That film is pure poetry, but the 1944 version might actually be scarier! The black and white cinematography is awe-inspiring, some of the best ever captured. It can be very, very eerie. It's actually inspired - perhaps even pilfered - by Orson Welles' films to date. I wonder if he thought he was being ripped off? The acting is not perfect. Joan Fontaine, as a thousand other people have probably pointed out, is anything but plain, as the character is supposed to be (I've never read the novel - hell, I probably should now! - but her plainness is expressed in the film). It's also easy to point out that she wears one expression throughout the film. However, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. The backstory is so well done that that expression seems to fit the character quite well. Orson Welles either seems to be not in the mood to star in this film or he seems too eager to be superb. I can't decide, but the result is curious. I wouldn't call it a bad performance, certainly, but it is not especially satisfactory, either. Whatever other criticisms could be expressed, he certainly never comes off as actually experiencing these situations with true emotions, unlike Fontaine. Perhaps the best performance in the film comes from young Peggy Ann Garner, who plays Jane as a young girl. She's simply amazing. Elizabeth Taylor appears in a small, uncredited role. Wow, she's young. All in all, I really loved Jane Eyre. While I recognize its imperfections, I wouldn't be surprised if my cable box gets stuck on Turner Classic Movies the next time it airs. 9/10.
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The classic novel meets film noir ...
MickeyTo28 November 1999
Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre is by far one of the great classics of all time. Bronte somehow manages to bring to life a tear-jerker of a romance out of the lives of sad and dreary people, living dark and secretive lives. It's no wonder that this book has gone on to be one of the great classics of all time, and that it has been the basis of many film and television projects. The book is irresistable.

Jane Erye is orphaned as a young girl. Her relatives find her too precocious to deal with and send her off to a strict boarding school. Completely cut off from her family, Jane undergoes verbal and physical torture as the school attempts to beat her spirit out of her. She comes out of the school well-educated, however a little mousy, but she still hasn't lost that attitude that they all seemed to loathe in her. When the school offers her a teaching position she flatly refuses, advising them that she is still bitter.

Jane takes a job as a governess for a Mr Rochester. She is hired by the housekeeper to tend to Rochester's child, an annoyingly sweet young thing complete with a French accent and petticoats. Like Jane, this child is lonely. Her father is never around and it is assumed that the mother died. Unlike Jane, the child is comfortable in a large mansion with plenty of people around to take care of her needs, however, as Ms. Bronte points out, child abuse is not necessarily a product of being poor.

Mr. Rochester travels for a living and rarely comes home. Jane has already bonded with the child long before she even meets her father. Jane is led to believe that Mr. Rochester is an angry, driven man, bitter over the tragic demise of his first wife. When Jane finally meets him she finds that there is also a great deal of sadness. Hence the beginning of a very quirky romance.

Jane is described in the book as a shy, but strong young girl. In the book we are able to see into the brilliant mind, whereas with a film adaptation, and by the way it is played by Joan Fontaine, we only ever see the waif-like exterior. We all remember Joan in other 'frightened little chipmunk' roles in films like Rebecca and Suspicion. While she was capable in those parts, she isn't quite as effective here. She isn't able to convey Jane's unique perceptions and her stubborn bitterness, therefore stripping away an important layer to the story. If only she would put into her work, some of that spunk she showed in real life when she went to the mat with her feuding sister, Olivia.

Orson Welles, on the other hand, is perfectly cast as the male lead. Bronte presents Mr. Rochester as a large man, somewhat ugly but still a robust sex machine. Welles is going through that period in the mid-forties, between the time that it took him to realize that he would never make a film like Citizen Kane again, and the time that he started to put on weight and lose his hair. Welles is a burly guy, not handsome, but certainly prime!

I would rate the movie as something worth seeing, but I strongly recommend that one read the book first. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Fontaine was mentioned for Best Actress. It was very good in its day, and it does hold up fairly well, in large part because of the big names that star in it. On the other hand, it does not come close to the pleasure of sitting down and reading the story. To put it another way, this is the difference between going to Disney World or looking at someone else's photographs.
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They don't make them like they used to
Jiro11 September 1998
Watching Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine in this classic makes me wonder where all the good cinematographers have gone. Any comments from out there?
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A true classic of Hollywood's golden era!
jamesmmahoney8 January 2008
Those looking for an example of Hollywood at its best need look no further than this 1943 masterpiece. From the superb acting to the literate screenplay, haunting musical score and outstanding production values, this version of JANE EYRE is justly considered one of the finest films ever produced in Hollywood. Orson Welles is superb as Rochester and Joan Fontaine in the title role gives one of the best performances of her career. The supporting cast is also outstanding, especially Henry Daniell who provides an unforgettable performance as Brockhurst. I have viewed this film numerous times over the last 20 years, and it never fails to entertain. This is a not-to-be-missed film for anyone who enjoys classic Hollywood cinema!
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Brontë Told in Shadow and Light
puck-f31 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to review a 97 minute movie based on a 400 page, densely threaded novel. There simply isn't enough time to hit all the key points in the story. But what they did here was commendable, if incomplete.

Of the four big budget productions I've seen ('44, '96, '97, '06), this one comes closest to capturing the story's dark tone. This is largely due to George Barne's magnificent black and white photography and lighting, producing sharp contrasts of shadow and light. I think this works in concert with the book's themes. JANE EYRE is as much a story of contrast and conflict, as it is about likeness and profound union. Apart from the child-abuse, dark secrets and near bigamous marriage, the heroine is at odds philosophically with nearly every other major character in the story. In one corner are the dogmatic Helen Burns and St. John Rivers, in another the cruel, hypocritical Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst, in a third, the man she loves, the rule-bending, ethically bankrupt Edward Rochester with much society and little connection... and in the fourth, by herself, Jane.

It's also a story of bold challenge, which, (at least to some) places the protagonist squarely on the dark side of "Gods" law when she questions Burns, about the very existence of afterlife, and River's about sanctity of living for the it. Like most versions, these are omitted, but the films style goes a long way to at least suggest the tale has a dark underbelly. We do see the child abuse, and of course the attempted "feigned union" with the"defrauded wretch", we just never get a complete picture of all she's rejecting in favor of the wretch.

Like most short adaptations, there's no St. John Rivers. He exists in name only as a kindly doctor. Consequently there's no contrasting philosophy between this character who lives for the hereafter and boasts of his mastery of impulse control, and Edward Rochester who lives for the now, and is notable for his lack of it.

The studio sets, which include hand painted skies as backdrops, also lend weight to the tale which is rooted in abstract ideas. Though I suspect people accustomed to location shots and heavy CGI may balk.

The script is necessarily shaved. The dialog, which is a mix of excerpted Brontë and invention, is well crafted and tonally consistent. If they lacked the author's brilliance, at least they did no harm. Unlike '06, which was not simply modernized, but flat out bad; and ranged from prosaic to shamefully expository, and often laughable. The '97 was similarly afflicted.

Jane's childhood is handled remarkably well considering time constraints. Peggy Ann Garner as young Jane is wonderfully spunky, willful and sympathetic. And Bessie (Sara Allgood), is played with just the right balance of sternness and warmth. Otherwise they manage to convey the severity of Lowood Institution fairly effectively.

Both Welles and Fontaine have both given better performances, Here their characters are more suggested than dramatically realized. Still Welles does possess a commanding presence and menace necessary to play Edward Rochester, which is heightened by dramatic lighting. This also aids Fontaine, (albeit to a lesser extent), whose delivery, like Welles', is often self-conscious. She tends to be more mouse-like, than understated, and lacks the inner acuity, curiosity and intense study of her master of the novel -- and there are no explosive clashes to offset her demeanor. But since the best story teller here is the visuals, it is strong camera work and editing, that carry her through Jane's concerns, longing and pain... and even her admonishment of her master.

Having seen many adaptations of JANE EYRE this past year, it was interesting to note that Welles and Fontaine were in good company, finding these roles elusive. I found many a strong actor stumbling their way through performances. A quick summary.

ROCHESTERS: * William Hurt ('96) Singularly-Internally-Wounded Rochester; * Ciaran Hinds ('97) Maniacal-Rochester; * Toby Stevens ('06) I'm-Not-Really-Rochester, Rochester. "Hey I'm not half as bad as Brontë made me out to be."

JANES: * Charlotte Gainsbourg ('96) Sweet-Mouse-Like Jane II; * Samantha Morton ('97) Bossy-Jane; * Ruth Wilson ('06) Extremely-Sympathetic-Jane. In my opinion the best of the four, but incomplete; likely a victim of a *very* weak script.

What Welles/ Fontaine have in their favor is a contrasting resonance, which keeps the dynamic of the story intact. Something some later adaptations lack. However while we might imagine this Rochester threatening Jane with violence when she tells him she's leaving, it might be a bit tougher to imagine this Jane, summoning enough strength, through emotional exhaustion, to calm him when he threatens her and is about to "... plunge headlong into wild license," But technically we don't need to. The scene, as in most versions, is omitted. Here it's basically condensed into one last... "we'd be hurting no one Jane," and she softly blesses him for his kindness and leaves. The shot is atmospheric and affecting. It doesn't convey his savage, twisted state, or how depleted she is, or the excruciating struggle she's just endured, or the courage it took to endure it (but few versions do), but we do at least feel some stakes in this one, if not intensely.

Me, I think the miniseries format is the only way to do justice to this novel. But apart from the flawed but mostly wonderful Clarke/Dalton '83 -- which I think overall has the richest characterizations and script, but is as wanting of visual artistry as this one is dependent on it -- there's nothing that really works for me. I'm hoping HBO will tackle this material someday. Who better to do language, long threaded narratives, complex themes, ambiguous characters, or characters with surprising contrasts?

If you don't mind a broad suggestion of the story, rather than a fully articulated version, you might find this one worth a look. If only for the shadow and light of it.
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Brontë Blues
EdgarST18 June 2006
"Jane Eyre", "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945) and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), were fine introductions to Hollywood melodrama during my childhood. I watched them on television, when the medium was new in Panamá. I grew up when black-and-white films were the norm, but not all of them had the distinguished cinematography these three have, thanks, respectively, to maestros George Barnes, Leon Shamroy and Charles Lang. Now that many years have passed, I prefer "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" above the others, for its lovely story, Bernard Herrmann's score (which was his favorite), Joseph L. Mankiewicz' delicate direction, and the beautiful presence of Gene Tierney; but "Jane Eyre" had the strongest impact on me. Maybe it was Charlotte Brontë's sad story, which was made twice as unaccredited adaptations for Mexican soap operas verging on horror tales; maybe it was the cruel way poor Jane (Peggy Ann Garner) and her friend Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) were treated in an orphanage, or perhaps because of Joan Fontaine, who often played the most unfortunate leading ladies (just consider her parts in "Rebecca", "Letters from an Unknown Woman", and "Suspicion")... But most of all I remember the lightning and the outdoors sets, in a time that I had never heard of German Expressionism. Directed by Robert Stevenson, who went on to direct "Darby O'Gill and the Little People", "The Absent Minded Professor", "Mary Poppins", and "The Love Bug" for Disney, it has been said that Orson Welles (who played Edward Rochester) had a strong influence on the stunning visual aspect of the film. Herrmann also worked on this one, contributing a haunting score.
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My Favorite Movie!
Elizabeth-32825 April 1999
In my opinion, this is the best movie ever made. It's sweet and romantic, and true to the book. Joan Fontaine is great as the title role, and I think this is Orson Welles in his finest performance. He suits the image I had of Edward Rochester from reading the book perfectly! Also, outstanding performances by child actresses Margaret O'Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, and Elizabeth Taylor. This is a must see for anyone, especially a fan of the book! I gave "Jane Eyre" a 10/10.
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Did Stevenson even read the book???
Enigma7804 February 2000
Though Jane Eyre was blessed with incredible performances by Welles and Fontaine, the movie completely disgraced the novel. I just finished reading the book, and the injustices were incredible. Especially that of switching St. John to a doctor at Lowood, and making him an unimportant part of Jane's life. Not to mention the fact that Stevenson disregarded any attempt to include Ms. Temple, one of Jane's most important role models. This movie truly makes me wonder if Stevenson actually read the book. Or if he did, was he paying any attention to the words he perused?
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This is the "BEST" Jane Eyre ever made!
penwil0915 July 2003
This is truly a classic.....the whole gothic scenery, even though,filmed in black and white, has a mesmerizing effect. Riveting performances by Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles kept you glued to your seat with the wonderful narrating adding depth to the storyline!
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