Jane Eyre (1943 film)
Original film poster
|Directed by||Robert Stevenson|
|Produced by||William Goetz
Orson Welles (uncredited)
|Written by||John Houseman
Henry Koster (uncredited)
Charlotte Brontë (novel)
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Editing by||Walter Thompson|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||24 December 1943 (UK)
3 February 1944 (US)
|Running time||97 min|
|Box office||$1.75 million (rentals)|
Jane Eyre (1944) is an American film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel of the same name, released by 20th Century Fox. It was directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by William Goetz, Kenneth Macgowan, and Orson Welles (uncredited). The film stars Welles and Joan Fontaine. Elizabeth Taylor made an early, uncredited appearance.
The screenplay was written by John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, Henry Koster, and Robert Stevenson, based on a radio adaptation of the novel presented on The Mercury Theatre on the Air, on which John Houseman collaborated. The music score was by Bernard Herrmann and the cinematography by George Barnes.
Orphaned and unwanted child Jane Eyre (Peggy Ann Garner) lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed (Agnes Moorehead) of Gateshead Hall. Both Jane and her aunt are glad when Mrs. Reed arranges for Jane to be sent to Lowood Institution, a charity boarding school run by the harsh Reverend Brocklehurst (Henry Daniell).
Based on what Mrs. Reed has told him, Brocklehurst labels Jane a liar in front of all the inmates and has her stand on a stool for the rest of her first day. She is comforted and befriended by another student, Helen Burns (Elizabeth Taylor). Later, Jane protests when Brocklehurst orders that Helen's naturally curling hair be cut. As a result, both are punished by being made to walk around and around in the rain. Dr. Rivers (John Sutton), a sympathetic physician who periodically checks on the students, brings them back inside, but it is too late for Helen; she dies that night.
Ten years later, in 1829, Jane (Joan Fontaine) turns down Brocklehurst's offer of the position of teacher. She advertises for and accepts the position of governess for a young girl named Adele (Margaret O'Brien). When she first arrives at Thornfield, a gloomy, isolated mansion, she initially mistakes Mrs. Fairfax (Edith Barrett) for her employer, but she is only the housekeeper for her absent master.
Jane goes for a walk one night, only to startle a horse into throwing and slightly injuring its rider and her employer, Edward Rochester (Orson Welles). Back in Thornfield, he interviews her.
That night, Jane is awakened by strange laughter. When she investigates, she discovers Mr. Rochester's bed curtains on fire. She rouses the sleeping man and, together, they put out the fire without rousing anyone else. Rochester bids her wait while he goes to another wing of the house, where mysterious seamstress Grace Poole (an uncredited Ethel Griffies) keeps to herself. When he returns, he tells her nothing other than that the matter is under control. The next morning, he leaves Thornfield.
A winter and spring go by before he returns with a large group of guests; Jane is greatly saddened when Mrs. Fairfax confides to her that everyone expects Rochester to marry Blanche Ingram (Hillary Brooke). However, Rochester informs Jane of his conviction that Miss Ingram is attracted only by his great wealth.
When a man named Mason (an uncredited John Abbott) of Spanish Town, Jamaica, shows up, Jane can see that Rochester is disturbed. That night, a scream awakens everyone. Rochester assures his guests it is just a servant's reaction to a nightmare, but after they go back to their rooms, he has Jane secretly tend a bleeding Mason, while he fetches a doctor. Jane assumes Grace is responsible. Rochester has the doctor take Mason away.
Rochester has a private conversation with Blanche, in which he bluntly asserts that she is after him for his wealth. She is offended, and the guests leave. Unaware of this development, Jane broaches the topic of her future employment after Rochester gets married. He then reveals that it is she herself he intends to marry.
During the wedding ceremony, however, an attorney announces that Rochester has a wife; this is confirmed by Mason, her brother. Defeated, Rochester takes them back to Thornfield and shows them his insane spouse, guarded by Grace Poole. Jane rejects his offer to leave England together and departs Thornfield.
With her funds exhausted, she returns to Gateshead. She finds that her aunt has suffered a stroke, caused by worry over the ruinous behaviour of her son, who then committed suicide. There is a reconciliation. After Mrs. Reed dies, Jane is pondering what to do with herself when she hears an anguished beloved voice from thin air calling her name.
She travels to Thornfield, which she finds in ruins. Mrs. Fairfax informs her that the lunatic escaped, set the place on fire, and fled to the roof. When Rochester tried to rescue her, she jumped and was killed. He was blinded when the burning stairway collapsed underneath him. With no other impediments, she joyfully returns to him. She narrates that, when their son was born, his vision was sufficiently restored for him to see their child.
- Orson Welles as Edward Rochester
- Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre
- Margaret O'Brien as Adele Varens
- Peggy Ann Garner as Jane Eyre as a child
- John Sutton as Dr. Rivers
- Sara Allgood as Bessie, Mrs. Reed's servant, whom Jane is saddened to leave
- Henry Daniell as Henry Brocklehurst
- Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed
- Aubrey Mather as Colonel Dent
- Edith Barrett as Mrs. Alice Fairfax
- Barbara Everest as Lady Ingram
- Hillary Brooke as Blanche Ingram
- Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns (uncredited)
The film was acclaimed for its recreation of the Yorkshire Moors. It was actually filmed entirely in Hollywood on a heavily disguised sound stage. The long shadows and heavy fog, which added the air of a Gothic novel lacking in so many remakes, were rumored to have been the brainchild of Orson Welles. He was offered a producer's credit as thanks for his contribution but declined the offer, believing that a person who is not a director shouldn't be "just" a producer.
Herrmann was the second choice for the composer. Igor Stravinsky was originally approached by Welles, and he even got so far as writing music for a hunting scene, which he later used in his Ode. During his scoring of the film, Herrmann started working on his opera Wuthering Heights, based on the novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë's sister Emily. He quoted some themes from the Jane Eyre score (and others of his earlier scores) in the opera.
Differences from the novel 
In addition to the quote read by Fontaine at the beginning of the film, from what appears to be a page of the novel, but in actuality made up by the screenwriters, there are several differences or omissions. In the book, Helen does not die from being punished individually. An epidemic claims so many of the Lowood inmates, weakened by Brocklehurst's harsh and stingy treatment. Control of the institution is shared with others of a more liberal mien; Jane thrives under the new management.
An entire subplot is discarded. When Jane leaves Thornfield after learning about Rochester's wife Bertha, she wanders the country until she is taken in by three charitable siblings, who turn out to be her cousins. This leads to an inheritance and a marriage proposal.
- Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck, Grove Press 1993 p 64-65
- Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 220, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
- Jane Eyre at the Internet Movie Database
- Jane Eyre at the TCM Movie Database
- Jane Eyre at AllRovi
- Rotten Tomatoes reviews
- Review at JaneEyre.net
- Jane Eyre on Campbell Playhouse: March 31, 1940
- Jane Eyre on Screen Guild Theater: March 2, 1941
- Jane Eyre on Radio Hall of Fame: February 13, 1944
- Jane Eyre on Matinee Theater: December 3, 1944
- Jane Eyre on Lux Radio Theater: June 14, 1948