Saturday, January 9, 2021

Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles star in “Jane Eyre”

Jane Eyre (1943) is a gothic romance directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Based on the classic novel by Charlotte Bronte, the screenplay was written by John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, and Robert Stevenson. Bernard Herrmann wrote the film score.

The plot concerns Jane Eyre, an orphan educated at Lowood, a charity institution for young girls run with brutal discipline by Mr. Brocklehurst. When Jane reaches adulthood, she advertises for a job as a governess. Edward Rochester hires her through his housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, who at first, Jane believes to be the mistress of the house. Jane enjoys her job as governess to Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward. In spite of Mr. Rochester’s sometimes-surly behavior, Jane finds herself drawn to him. As their relationship eventually grows into love, a secret from Rochester’s past threatens to doom them both.

Jane Eyre was filmed entirely on the sound stages at 20th Century-Fox.

Robert Stevenson (1905 – 1986) was an English film director, screenwriter, and actor. Producer David O. Selznick brought him to Hollywood where he loaned out his services as a director to other studios. In Hollywood, Stevenson directed Tom Brown’s School Days (1940), Back Street (1941) starring Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan, Joan of Paris (1942) starring Michele Morgan, and Dishonored Lady starring Hedy Lamarr (1947). Stevenson also directed many episodes of top television series including Gunsmoke, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Stevenson really hit his stride when he began working for the Walt Disney Studios. At Disney, he directed Johnny Tremain (1957), Old Yeller (1957), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Kidnapped (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), The Love Bug (1968), and two of my favorites, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965). None of the above Disney classics could compare, however, to the huge success of Mary Poppins (1964) which went on to win five Oscars. Stevenson directed Hayley Mills in That Darn Cat! (1965), her last movie under contract with Disney. In 1977, Variety reported that Stevenson was “the most commercially successful director in the history of films. Stevenson became an American citizen during World War II and was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps with director Frank Capra.

Orson Welles (1915- 1985) was an American actor, writer, director, and producer. He is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, with Citizen Kane (1941) considered by many to be the greatest film of all time. Welles got his start on the stage. He formed the Mercury Theatre with John Houseman in 1937. Many of the actors from his repertory theatre starred in his first two films. Welles had a reputation for being difficult and undisciplined which contributed to his low output of films. In spite of all that, his reputation as a Hollywood genius remains untarnished.

Joan Fontaine (1917 – 2013) was a British-American actress who starred in more than 45 films during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” After secondary roles in Gunga Din (1939) and The Women (1939), her fortunes turned with her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca (1940). She was nominated for Best Actress for her role in that film but lost to Ginger Rogers. The next year, she worked with Hitchcock again in Suspicion and this time won the Best Actress Oscar, beating out her older sister Olivia de Havilland. She received a third and final nomination for The Constant Nymph (1943). Other popular Fontaine films include This Above All (1942), From This Day Forward (1946), Ivy (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Ivanhoe (1952). After the late-1950s, she appeared less in films and more on stage and television. Fontaine and her sister are the only siblings to have won major acting Academy Awards.

Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) has her hair cut by Mr. Brocklehurst much to
Jane’s (Peggy Ann Garner ) dismay.

Others in the cast include Margaret O’Brien as Adele, Peggy Ann Garner as the young Jane, Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed, John Sutton as Dr. Rivers, Henry Daniell as Mr. Brocklehurst, Edith Barrett as Mrs. Fairfax, and Sara Allgood as Bessie. An eleven-year-old Elizabeth Taylor plays Jane’s childhood friend at Lowood. So unknown was Taylor at this time that she didn’t receive on-screen billing. Both Taylor and Margaret O’Brien were loaned from their home studio, M-G-M to Fox for their work in Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre trivia:

  • Director Robert Stevenson was a member of the Bronte Society.
  • Composer Bernard Herrmann would go onto writing an operatic version of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Character actress Ethel Griffies (Grace Poole) played the same character in the 1934 film version.
  • Olivia de Havilland portrayed Charlotte Bronte (author of Jane Eyre) in Devotion (1946).

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

To join us on Zoom for a discussion of the film on January 12, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to the Zoom meeting.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Why do you think there have been literally dozens of film and television adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s novel?
  2. Have you seen other film adaptations of Jane Eyre? How do they compare and contrast to the 1943 version?
  3. Were Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles well cast as Jane and Mr. Rochester?
  4. Did anything about the film or its production surprise you?
  5. Did you have a favorite character actor in the film?

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