I only have a passing familiarity with the story of Jane Eyre. My wife is a fan of Charlotte Bronte's* novel, though I've never read it myself. I wanted to see the movie version that came out recently, and I heard was pretty good, but I haven't had that chance yet. So that all means that this, Robert Stevenson's 1943 adaptation of the novel, starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, is my first real introduction to Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester.
Jane Eyre is the story of a girl who, after a difficult, loveless youth, finds love in the shape of a stern, grouchy, rich man with a secret. Her journey is full of hardships and heartbreaks, and all of those things that made a good novel in the 19th century.
Our main reason for watching this version of Jane Eyre when we did was to see another movie starring Joan Fontaine, who my wife and I both loved in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. Fontaine makes a pretty great Jane Eyre (or so I'm told by my wife), which is no surprise, since Rebecca is kind of exactly the same story, but with a more modern, suspense thriller vibe. I liked her better in Rebecca, though, especially in the early parts of the movie, when she's all awkward and clumsy and timid.
Orson Welles is Orson Welles, which is great. This was made not long after Citizen Kane. I always kind of wondered if other directors felt weird directing the guy who blew the doors of possibility wide open on the way movies were made. The screenplay was based off a radio production that Welles performed with his theater troup. He makes a pretty believable Mr. Rochester, and is able to find and show us the humanity in such a grouch, allowing the viewer to understand what Jane Eyre might see in this guy.
The director, Robert Stevenson, is actually a very important movie director, though one many of us may not know by name. Starting in the 1950's, he became the Disney studio's go-to guy for their live action kids movies. He directed some true Disney classics, including Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Nutty Professor, The Shaggy Dog, and That Darn Cat. Jane Eyre is made long before any of those movies, and shows that earlier in his career, he could make mature and serious films just as well as he could make whimsical family movies.
Well, there you have it. I finally know what Jane Eyre is all about. Maybe someday I'll read the novel. I do enjoy reading the classics from time to time.
Oh hey, one more thing: Aldous Huxley worked on the script for this. Crazy, right?
*Apologies to die hard Bronte fans, (or Brontesauruses as I have just now decided to call them), I have no idea how to put the two little dots over the E in her name.