Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jane Eyre (1944)

Literary, but well-staged adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel about an abused, but subservient girl who searches for comfort and love in 1840's england. The sprawling narrative opens with Jane as a young girl in the house of her aunt, who abuses her in favor of her own gluttonous, pampered son. Hoping for a change, she is eventually transferred to a institution for young girls, where she becomes friends with Helen, played by a young Elizabeth Taylor. However, they are regularly abused, and, following a night of punishment in the rain, Helen dies of pneumonia, leaving Jane alone and miserable once more. She grows up, and finds employment as a governess for the rich, blustery, and secretive Mr. Rochester, and finds a joy in life through Rochester's little girl, Adele. Then Jane and Rochester find love, despite their difference in class, background, etc. This is a handsome production, with grand sets and production design to complement the classic nature of the novel, but the plotline is too fractured and disconnected to make for a satisfying narrative throughline; we are given much insight as to what has happened to Jane over the course of her life, but it mostly serves as backstory to explain Jane's resistance toward comfort with Rochester and his household. Once the film gets Jane to Rochester's mansion, and Orson Welles finally makes his top-billed appearance as Mr. Rochester, the pace picks up, and the fairly traditional love story between the two is allowed to take full focus. While there is not very much, even in this stretch of the story, that is particularly fresh or enlightening to those who haven't read Bronte's novel, the performances (particularly by Welles...I know, shocker) and the grandiose presentation strike a consistent chord until the lukewarm, but thoroughly satisfactory ending. The first 45 minutes or so present a strong backstory for the titular character, but they bring the films pace to a snail's crawl in service of fidelity to the source material; aside from Taylor's shockingly mature presence, even at this young age, there is little here that is engaging beyond a technical level.

Slightly Recommended for fans of the novel or similarly handsome, grand Victorian-era romances. The performances and production were what kept my attention here, but I could say the same thing about Citizen Kane, a film that's three years younger, yet trumps this in every way possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment