Jane Eyre (1934) (Update: Watch It Online)

Charlotte Brontë’s dark and brooding story of an abused orphan who becomes the self-possessed governess to a little girl in a strange family comes to the screen stripped of its 19th century social criticisms and laid bare as a pure Rom Com.

Whereas, the novel introduces Jane as a person who overcomes her cruel lot in life, this film makes the protagonist (Virginia Bruce) an immature instigator. When her cousins become upset with young Jane, we discover it is Jane who has facilitated a few incidents by taking other people’s items, and generally being disagreeable. When Jane is sent to an orphanage, then grows up to become a teacher, she rebels against the school’s rules, not out of a sense of moral obligation to protect children, but because she simply enjoys challenging authority. She’s absolutely gleeful when the headmaster nearly fires her for insubordination. When her love interest invites another woman to his ball, Jane arrives wearing an inappropriate dress, ala Julie Marsden in Jezebel, to prove a point.

It’s very difficult to empathize with this protagonist.

20 minutes in, Jane gets a new job as governess for the Rochester family and the movie lurches into a Nanny-Marries-The-Boss storyline, which inevitably includes the following:
  •     Headstrong, intelligent woman takes a job as a nanny.
  •     Precocious child wants father figure to marry nanny.
  •     Handsome leading man waits interminably long to admit that he’s in love with nanny.
  •     “Other Woman”  comes dangerously close to marrying leading man.
  •     Nanny must leave to ponder her plight.
  •     After some misunderstandings there is a happy conclusion.
The Sound of Music, The King and I, Houseboat, Corrina,Corrina, even Au Pair all do a better job of infusing some depth into this standard story (or at least making it interesting).

As a result, there is nothing eerie or mysterious about Jane Eyre’s love interest/new boss, Edward Rochester (Colin Clive). He’s not the tortured, conflicted man with many secrets that he is in the book;  he’s your average, dashing leading man.  From their meetcute on there’s no doubt they’ll end up together, so you have to slog through the next 40 minutes of red herrings until the inevitable conclusion.

What keeps me in my seat are some unintentionally hilarious scenes which are completely unrelated to the plot, except that they involve the same characters. In one scene, Rochester’s mischievous niece and Jane‘s charge, Adele (Edith Fellows), gets stuck head first in a large porcelain trash bin. Jane breaks a vase over Adele’s legs which somehow frees the young girl. The scene is ludicrously disconnected from the story and is therefore funny. It’s as though someone has spliced in a Laurel and Hardy short. 

The film is also enjoyable for its basic approach to action sequences. In this current world of perfectly pieced-together computer generated images, and regulations for everything that moves on a film set, the rawness of some scenes is refreshing.

In one scene, the camera watches Adele skip down a path, twist her foot and slip and fall. She does it in one shot, no cutaways. How does that kid not break her ankle? What a trooper. In an earlier scene, when Rochester must fall with his horse in front of Jane,  all three - the woman, the man and the horse  - are in one shot as the noble steed comes crashing to the ground - no stunt men, no special effects, no jump cuts to a close up of flying reigns. It’s simple action, and, because of its lack of manipulation by the editor, a lovely surprise.

Update 07/10/2010
Jane Eyre (1934) seems to be in the public domain. You can watch it online or download it for free at the Internet Archive.

6 comments:

  1. Java, I've seen several film versions of JANE EYRE (Orson & Joan, George C. Scott, William Hurt)...but not this one. I confess it sounds interesting just because it's so different! This was an intriguing review.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rick29,

    I found it in the bargain bin of a video store. It was put on DVD by some production company I've never heard of, which leads me to believe the film is in the public domain.

    Let me check...

    Yep. You can watch it for free at the Internet Archive here:
    http://www.archive.org/details/JaneEyre34

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post. I've read the book of Jane Eyre as well as seen this film. I love it. Both are classics.

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  4. Hi Keith,

    I often have difficulty letting go of the fact that since film is an entirely different medium from a novel with different expectations influencing it, the finished product will likely not look anything like the book.

    One day I'll reconcile myself to these facts. :)

    Thanks for dropping in.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love the book. You know what, the best adaptation IMO is the 4-chapter-version produced by BBC in 2006. Here's the IMDB link:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780362/

    I really recommend it, it's perfect :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I haven't seen that version of Jane Eyre yet, but I do love BBC productions.

    Thank you, Clara.

    ReplyDelete

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