Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema classic is the romantic horror tale Jane Eyre, starring the magnificent Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. This gothic adaptation of the Bronte masterpeice is a dark, brooding, brilliant take on the literary classic. No one comes near the moody, wild, charismatic Welles. If you haven't seen it, pop those kernals in the micro and set yourself down.
Jane Eyre By BOSLEY CROWTHER Published: February 4, 1944
The dark, malignant side of Charlotte Brontë, which flashes fiercely through the pages of her "Jane Eyre," sets the tone for the moody film version of this great novel, which came to the Music Hall yesterday. No depths of consuming passion are plumbed very diligently in this film. No haunting pathos pervades it. The producers had little time for that. With Orson Welles playing Rochester, the anguished hero of the book, they mainly gave way to the aspects of morbid horror to be revealed. They tossed Mr. Welles most of the story and let him play it in his hot, fuliginous style. As a consequence, the heroine of the classic, little Jane, played by Joan Fontaine, is strangely obscured behind the dark cloud of Rochester's personality.
True, this accounts for some distortion of Miss Brontë's full-bodied book. It makes Jane a sort of bloodless Trilby from the time Rochester sweeps upon the scene. She becomes, as it were, a hypnotic under his Svengali spell, and exists in a world of shapeless horrors which are governed entirely by him. Under these circumstances the early part of the film, which gives a very moving comprehension of Jane's sad childhood at Lowood School, seems remote from the rest of the picture. It is almost a separate tale. The emphasis is taken away from Jane Eyre as soon as she goes to Thornfield Hall.
But that doesn't say that the picture isn't grimly fascinating in its own right, for it does have continuous vitality as a romantic horror tale. The mysterious moods of Rochester, the secret horror locked away in Thornfield Hall, the screams in the night and the strange fires are all conducive to shivers down the spine. And the moment of shattering revelation, when the secret of Thornfield is exposed, should be quite a cozy experience for those who have not read the book.
Mr. Welles' ferocious performance doesn't limn Miss Bronte's hero, but it does strike off a figure which is interesting to observe. His Rochester has the studied arrogance, the restless moods of a medieval king carrying his own soul on a halberd and demanding that everybody look at it. We only wish that he spoke more clearly; he so mumbles and macerates his words that half the time we were unable to tell what he was talking about. In contrast, Miss Fontaine's performance is so modest and subdued that one comprehends from it only anxiety and awe. No wonder there is no sense of love or passion between them. Peggy Ann Garner is desperately appealing as the tortured child, Jane, and Henry Daniell is monstrously sadistic as her evil schoolmaster. Sara Allgood, Agnes Moorehead and Edith Barrett are good in lesser roles.
The settings are heavy and sombre, and Robert Stevenson has directed in a style that suggests the romantic extravagance of dark Victorian prose. For instance, at the moment of betrothal between Jane and Rochester, he has thunder rumble in the heavens and lightning blast a tree. Other collaborations between nature and man are quite as convenient in this "Jane Eyre."
JANE EYRE, screen Play by Aldous Huxley, Robert Stevenson and John Houseman; from the book by Charlotte Bronte; directed by Mr. Stevenson; William Goetz in charge of production for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Edward Rochester . . . . . Orson Welles
Jane Evre . . . . . Joan Fontaine
Adele Varens . . . . . Margaret O'Brien
Jane (as a child) . . . . . Peggy Ann Garner
Dr. Rivers . . . . . John Sutton
Bessie . . . . . Sara Allgood
Brocklehurst . . . . . Henry Daniell
Mrs. Reed . . . . . Agnes Moorehead
Colonel Dent . . . . . Aubrey Mather
Mrs. Fairfax . . . . . Edith Barrett
Lady Ingram . . . . . Barbara Everest
Blanche Ingram . . . . . Hillary Brooke
Grace Poole . . . . . Ethel Griffies
Leah . . . . . Mae Marsh
Beadle . . . . . Yorke Sherwood
Mason . . . . . John Abbott
John . . . . . Ronald Harris