1941-1950DramaRobert StevensonRomanceUSA

Robert Stevenson – Jane Eyre (1943)

Who directed Jane Eyre? The credits clearly state Robert Stevenson, but a cult of sorts has sprung up over the decades since the film’s 1943 release to claim that it was really helmed—in spirit if not in letter-by its star Orson Welles. Stevenson’s wife and kids argue quite vociferously to the contrary, and certainly the public record, while tantalizingly ambiguous about what (if anything) Welles contributed, does not seem to support this thesis. But there is simply no denying that there is a huge Wellesian influence looming over the film like one of its intrinsically Gothic shadows. Stevens and cinematographer George Barnes often frame things in much the same way Welles and his cinematographer Gregg Toland did in Citizen Kane or how Welles and Stanley Cortez approached The Magnificent Ambersons. While the use of deep focus is somewhat limited, at least when compared to the “excesses” of the Welles films, there are striking angles and incredible chiaroscuro lighting in abundance throughout this Jane Eyre, certainly one of the most visually striking films in Stevenson’s long but frankly kind of pedestrian career (he went on to a long tenure at Walt Disney Productions, where he contributed fluff like The Absent Minded Professor, but also achieved a certain immortality with Mary Poppins).

Before Jane Eyre trekked through the Moors of Hollywood to the 20th Century Fox lot, it was actually going to be a David O. Selznick production. Selznick evidently put the original package together, which included stars Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, but he only slowly came to realize how similar this property was to Rebecca. If Joan Fontaine’s Jane character wasn’t quite the milquetoast that Rebecca was, other mirroring elements loomed large: both films featured a lonely woman arriving at a Gothic mansion ruled over by a mysterious, brooding man with a skeleton in his closet (and/or attic), both films featured the presence of a former wife affecting a burgeoning romance between the two, and both films had a fire at the mansion as a central plot point (even if that element were only explicitly portrayed in the Daphne Du Maurier adaptation).

According to at least some reportage, it was these very similarities that led Selznick to shop the property around, which is when it migrated to Fox, with Welles and Fontaine still in tow. There are of course manifold differences between Jane Eyre and Rebecca, not necessarily relegated to their vastly different time frames. Jane Eyre spends much of its running time detailing the childhood travails of orphan Jane, played with a heartfelt gusto by Peggy Ann Garner. Jane’s harridan Aunt (Welles repertory player Agnes Moorehead) shuttles the girl off to the imposing Lowood Institution, run by a martinet named Reverend Brocklehurst (Henry Daniell in one of his most memorable portrayals). Brocklehurst is intent on “breaking” the little girls under his care, and he puts Jane and her new best friend Helen (Elizabeth Taylor, incredibly uncredited) through a series of harrowing punishments, one of which ends up contributing to Helen’s demise.

Somehow Jane makes it through the gauntlet and reaches adulthood, actually refusing an offer of employment by the “good” reverend in order to become a governess at an isolated estate called Thornfield. Traipsing through the foggy, shrouded Moors around Thornfield one night almost leads to tragedy when she is suddenly beset upon by a man on a horse, a collision which sends the horse and rider catapulting to the ground. Though she isn’t initially aware of the fact, this odd man turns out to be her employer Edward Rochester (Orson Welles). Rochester’s ward Adele (a charming Margaret O’Brien) is Jane’s charge, and despite the gloomy surroundings, Jane seems to have finally found a hospitable place to live.

A number of bizarre occurrences, including midnight screams and a dangerous brush with a house fire, ensue, but while Jane has her suspicions of what is going on (which turn out to be incorrect), she finds herself drawn inexorably to Rochester’s brooding, solitary persona. Her love would seem to be unrequited, as it looks likely Rochester is about to marry a socially well placed woman, but a series of unexpected developments first take her out of contention, then place Jane front and center, before a devastating denouement keeps happily ever after apparently well outside of reach.

Jane Eyre is one of the more literate of literary adaptations, courtesy of a well structured script by John Houseman, Aldous Huxley and Robert Stevenson. The film plays almost like a Gothic noir at times, albeit with roles reversed. This is a film about an innocent woman perhaps led to her emotional ruin by an “homme fatale”. The noir aspect is of course fanciful from an actual plot standpoint, but visually this film is filled with the looming shadows, oddly askew angles and psychological manifestations that would come to define that genre over the next decade or more. Cinematographer George Barnes, who had won an Oscar for Hitchcock’s Rebecca, lights this film impeccably. The feeling of claustrophobic gloom hanging over Thornfield, Jane and Rochester is almost palpable. The film’s stunningly evocative production design also contributes mightily to the emotional resonance Jane Eyre achieves. Bernard Herrmann’s achingly romantic (and Romantic) score pulses through the film like the quickening heartbeats of Jane and Edward, with occasional nods to the madness threatening their nascent happiness.

Jane Eyre.1943.576p.BDRip-AVC.ZONE.mkv

Container:  	Matroska
Runtime: 	1 h 36 min
Size: 	2.22 GiB
Codec: 	x264
Resolution: 	768x576 
Aspect ratio:  	4:3
Frame rate: 	23.976 fps
Bit rate: 	2 500 kb/s
BPP: 	0.236
#1:  	English 1.0ch AC-3 @ 224 kb/s (Original)
#2:  	English 2.0ch FLAC (Isolated Score Track)
#3:  	English 2.0ch AAC LC SBR (Commentary with Biographer Joseph McBride and Actress Margaret O'Brien)
#4:  	English 2.0ch AAC LC SBR (Commentary with Film Historians Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman, and Steven C. Smith)



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