Jane Eyre in Black and White

Jane Eyre 1943

I find myself here again, late a night and somewhat in a sleepy haze.  I’ve proven again that my body is not as ambitious as my mind is.  I have fallen asleep on the couch again, this time watching one of the older versions of Jane Eyre, with Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine.  It’s actually my favorite version that I’ve seen, so I can’t blame the movie for the nap.  Instead I will let it guide me into a late submission of my daily blog.

Jane Eyre, notably one of the most popular and timeless novels in literature, can still grip me, and I don’t believe I am alone.  Charlotte Bronte’s story of a strong and often lost young woman can be heart wrenching, but still plausible, despite the fact that it was set in the mid 1800’s, in a world far different from ours today.  I’m not so literary that I can try to establish some new worldly significance of what I consider a masterpiece, but I will tell you why I appreciate the particular version I watched tonight.

This black and white version is from 1943.  It’s old enough that Elizabeth Taylor plays Jane’s school friend Helen, but pre-National Velvet, was clearly unknown and not credited for her roll.  This is the 7th or 8th movie version of Jane Eyre by the way, depending on who you ask, as it follows a Jane Eyre based zombie movie.  It seems that the varieties of adaptations since are virtually limitless too.

Orson Wells is Rochester in this classic and what I like about it, is that the script uses many lines straight from Bronte’s pen.  If you hadn’t read the book, you also wouldn’t get left wondering about important details, through the use of seamless transitions and plot lines.   One of the reasons for this is likely due to the fact that the screenplay was adapted from a radio version of the novel.  My husband took me to see the newest Jane Eyre in theaters last winter and since he is not terribly familiar with the story, I found myself wanting to explain portions because key elements seemed to be missing.  That was unfortunate.

The Orson Wells version simply feels as dark as it should; not just because it’s a grainy black and white film, but the imagery in conjunction with the silhouettes feels appropriate to the story.  There’s a certain dissonance to it, making the hardships Jane lives feel raw and not a shiny Hollywood version.  The soundtrack is a little exaggerated at moments but adds a nice touch overall, creating intense atmosphere amongst the characters.  Overall, it’s the perfect movie to enjoy on a rainy night such as this, if you aren’t already curled up with the book or your laptop reading blogs.

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