Part II: The Films
Since it’s already been established that I am anal-retentive nitpicker, I am watching the Jane Eyre movies in chronological order. First up is a black-and-white version from 1934 starring Virginia Bruce as Jane and Colin Clive (he played Dr. Frankenstein opposite Boris Karloff as the monster) as Edward. Instead of watching the endless All Star Game pre-game show, I watched JE34 instead.
I checked the film out over at IMDb, and there is not a single person in it whose name rings a bell. Edith Fellows plays “Adèle Rochester” (this makes me wonder just how the film handles her character). She was in a bunch of films as a child (she was born in 1923), and then had cameos in U.S. television shows in the 80s.
The film is only 62 minutes long, so I’m figuring that most of the original plot will be missing. Here’s how the Netflix envelope describes the film:
Colin Clive stars in the first all-talking version of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, one of the great romantic melodramas of all time. Raised in an orphanage and trained as a teacher, Jane Eyre (Virginia Bruce) goes to work as a governess for Edward Rochester (Clive). Inappropriately, she falls for her handsome employer, little realizing the dark, hidden secrets of his past. When Jane finally faces the truth, it may be too late.
Handsome employer? Hmm. This should be interesting, to say the least. On with the show!
The film opens with John Reed and a sister tormenting Jane. All three actors are American, and none of them can do a decent English accent, even though they all seem to try very hard. Granted, classically trained actors of that period spoke with an accent that mimicked an upper-class English accent (think Barrymores), but these are children and they really don’t succeed. Jane is wearing pettipants that make me think of Little Bo Peep (like these) and John Reed positively reeks of Little Lord Fauntleroy (except, of course, in his behavior — he’s still a prat). The film is less than 5 minutes old and Mrs. Reed has already told Jane she’s going to an orphanage. Young Jane is played by a girl named Jean Darling (who seems to be the only cast member still alive). She is a lovely little girl with Shirley Temple-type golden corkscrew curls. The curls are cut off almost immediately at Lowood, but Jane is still quite pretty. [Ms. Darling was “Jean” in a slew of “Our Gang” shorts, but she did not pursue an acting career as an adult.]
To show the passage of time, we see pages of the novel flipping forward, and all of a sudden we’re at chapter 10, when Jane has been at Lowood for 10 years. There’s no Helen Burns, and Mr. Brocklehurst is never forced out. In fact, he’s still at the school when Jane is a teacher, and he fires her for not disciplining her students properly. When she informs Miss Temple (I think it’s Miss Temple) that she’s leaving, she says she’ll live on the money her uncle left her while she looks for work. Ohhkayyyyyyy…
We are still less than 10 minutes into the film, and Jane is sitting with a drunk Cockney carriage driver driving through the woods. She takes over the reins at one point when he’s speeding. She finally can’t take him anymore and she gets off the carriage and walks away…without her luggage. I guess it’s because of the time constraints, but Jane and (I’m guessing) Rochester have their meeting in the woods as Jane is heading to Thornfield for the first time. I didn’t realize just how tall Virginia Bruce is. She’s just so “un-Jane-like” — she’s very tall and very blonde. Once Jane arrives at Thornfield, we meet Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle. The latter is Rochester’s niece, and she’s not French. She runs into the Cockney carriage driver at Thornfield (he apparently works for Mr. Rochester) and he warns her to lock her door at night.
The interior of Thornfield is light, bright and airy — nothing at all the way one pictures it in the book. We do get to meet Grace Poole, who is a rather disagreeable woman, and who is, apparently, married to the drunk Cockney.
Jane and Rochester meet for tea that afternoon, and I think she’s taller than he is. He’s immediately smitten — he keeps staring at her, and she’s a little nervous from his staring.
Nightfall arrives, and Jane hears some screaming. It sounds as if it’s coming from the next room, but it’s from upstairs, where Adèle tells Jane nobody is allowed to go except for Grace Poole.
Adèle is a big-time klutz. She gets caught in a tree, she falls and hurts her knee while dancing on the lawn, and then she falls into a gigantic vase…which Jane has to break to rescue her from. That’s when we meet Blanche Ingram who is, for some reason, called “Lady Blanche.” For a change, Blanche is a brunette. And she tells Edward that the governess is very pretty, without a hint of malice.
Rochester wants Jane to attend his party downstairs and, all of a sudden, all of the guests are waltzing, but there’s no orchestra. And, during the party, Adèle is sitting on Lord Ingram’s lap, making fun of the other guests. As an aside, Lord Ingram bears an uncanny resemblance to Captain Kangaroo.
After Edward and the guests get back from London, he tucks Adèle into bed, and she tries to convince him to marry Jane. Edward asks Jane to help him with wedding preparations, and she does so unwillingly. It feels as if she’s been in the house a week at most, but she’s already in love with him and miserable at the thought of his marrying (Lady) Blanche. The movie is now 3/4 of the way through, and Jane has asked for a holiday. No visit to Aunt Reed on her deathbed, just a holiday. Edward sees her just before she leaves, and he asks her to marry him. She says yes and they snog. Adèle sees them and is very happy.
Edward and Jane are in a drawing room with Mrs. Fairfax and a man who appears to be a minister, discussing the wedding, when all of a sudden a rather odd-looking woman appears. She calls Edward her husband and says she’s been looking for him for ages. She looks right at Jane and asks if Jane is going to be a guest at their wedding (hers and Edward’s). Edward calls her Bertha and a servant leads her away. He tells Jane that their marriage has been annulled and that he’s free to marry her.
Jane disappears immediately and, all of a sudden, Thornfield is burning. Next thing we see Jane agreeing to go to India with Dr. John Rivers as his wife. Sam Poole (Grace’s husband, the drunk Cockney) appears out of nowhere and tells Jane that Thornfield has burned to the ground and that Bertha is dead. Jane drops what she’s doing and runs back to Thornfield. Edward refuses to have anything to do with her until she convinces him otherwise.
This was BAD. I’m not just referring to the fact that next to nothing remains of the original story; it’s just bad in general (the acting, the accents, the weird plot, etc.). It’s so bad it’s funny. So, if you want a good giggle, rent this. If you want Jane Eyre, however, don’t bother.