Wednesday, September 4, 2013

On JANE EYRE (1943)

20th Century Fox's 1943 production of Jane Eyre has three top stars to its credit --  Joan Fontaine, Orson Welles and cinematographer George Barnes.  If you appreciate black and white cinematography and photography, which I do, you must see this version of the often told story based on the classic novel of the same name.  Barnes makes this adaptation dark with a rich display of shadow, light and composition.  If you're a still photographer, the visuals in this old Hollywood studio production may inspire you.  Joan Fontaine is Jane, of course. She's the governess who survived a bleak childhood.  She was bullied by grown-ups, especially within the educational system.  She wants to be loved.  Mr. Rochester, who calls himself a "crusty old bachelor," is played by a trim Orson Welles.  He's the star, not also the director as he was with Citizen Kane.  He's good.  He's a bit Citizen Rochester at times.  Fontaine is better, more natural.  Barnes is absolutely brilliant.  Here are samples of his atmospheric cinematography in Jane Eyre:

George Barnes has an extensive and impressive list of Hollywood films to his credits.  He was the cinematographer on two of Hitchcock's best films -- Spellbound and Rebecca, the 1940 film that made a star of Joan Fontaine.  Like Rebecca, Jane Eyre takes her character out of a miserable situation and relocates her to a huge estate.  A brooding, attractive man is the master of the manor.  There's a mysterious atmosphere about the place.  Something dangerous exists within.  She falls in love with the master of the house.  He falls in love with her.  There's a fire.  There's a kiss.

There's a very interesting note about this movie for you classic film fans.  In the first 20 minutes of the story, you see three little girls right before they became child stars.  The one who became the international superstar in her adult years wasn't even listed in the credits.

There's Margaret O'Brien before she sang and danced with Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and there's solemn Peggy Ann Garner before she broke hearts in Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945).

And there's Elizabeth Taylor before she made National Velvet (1944), won two Oscars for Best Actress, married several times, acquired diamonds, became a humanitarian in the dark days of the AIDS crisis and one of the biggest Hollywood legends on the planet.  She was an arrestingly beautiful child and showed the signs of true acting talent in those early scenes with Peggy Ann Garner as the young Jane.  When the girl is abused by the school headmaster and starts to get angry at the world, who comes along and extends a hand of charity?  Young Elizabeth as Helen.  "It's wrong to hate people," Helen says.

Although the little actress was uncredited, you know that face when you see it.

Elizabeth Taylor had star quality even then.  She was probably born with it.

In her superstar years and during her high-profile marriage to gifted actor Richard Burton, she and he starred as The V.I.P.s in 1963.

Orson Welles donned a red scarf and took a supporting role as one of the Very Important People.

Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O'Brien were both under contract to MGM and had success there.  I think a future O'Brien co-star could have also played Jane Eyre if Joan Fontaine had not been available to perform this screenplay.  In her 15 years at the MGM studio, Judy Garland was given only one opportunity to stretch herself dramatically.  Critics were impressed with her acting in Vincente Minnelli's The Clock (1945), her first non-musical.  Oscar winning screenwriter and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was impressed with Garland's dramatic potential.  So was famed acting coach Stella Adler. Judy had the skills to play Jane.  Garland would go on to receive Oscar nominations for her drama with music, A Star Is Born (1954) and her dramatic character role in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).  But MGM kept its top star in musical comedies and never loaned her out to another studio.  Yes, I think Judy would've also been good as 20th Century Fox's Jane Eyre.  Look at her dramatic tenderness with Margaret O'Brien as she introduces "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in Meet Me in St. Louis.
The Fox adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel runs only about 95 minutes.  For a stronger, fuller telling of the story, rent the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.  That one should've been an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.

As I wrote earlier, if you find beauty in black and white cinematography, rent this version with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles -- and treat your eyes to the visual work of George Barnes.

Just like Jane Eyre does in the film, you'll say "Thank you, Dr. Rivers."

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