Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jane Eyre (1944) "Alma Rebelde"

Director: Robert Stevenson
Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O'Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, John Sutton, Sara Allgood, Henry Daniell, Agnes Moorehead, Mae Marsh, Elizabeth Taylor

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. 

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