Part II, the Films, cont’d.
I’d said a couple of weeks ago that I’d put the Charlton Heston version of Jane Eyre in my Netflix queue, but I noticed that it’s no longer available. So I took Traxy’s advice and watched in online through the Internet archive. Here it is, in all its glory. I had seen a brief clip on YouTube a few years ago, and kept meaning to watch it, but never got around to it. So, thanks to the Jane Eyre-athon, I will finally get to watch this 1-hour American adaptation of Jane Eyre. Heston plays Rochester, and Jane is played by a woman named Mary Sinclair, who appeared in a lot of programs in the early days of television (including Catherine in Wuthering Heights). It aired on December 12, 1949; this copy is likely a kinescope (as are most tv programs that survive from this era), and we are lucky to have it.
The film opens as a young (adult) woman leaves Lowood School. We learn almost immediately that she is Jane Eyre, so they’ve cut out her entire childhood (and the first 100 or so pages of the book). The woman (Miss Cratchit – sp?) who lets her out berates her for leaving, and says that teachers who leave generally beg to be let back in, and that the school always refuses to do so.
Jane is rather long in the tooth. She says she’s been at the school for 18 years. She leaves the school saying “Thornfield! Thornfield!’ in a dreamy tone of voice. We then see a picture of a large house (the same house we saw in the opening credits). I gather that’s supposed to be Thornfield. I know one thing — it’s somewhat less bright and sunny inside than was the 1934 Thornfield, but the first interior scene actually looks like a 1940s living room (except for all the candles). And, speaking of looking like the 1940s, Jane’s dress is a little longer than those worn by women in the 1940s, but before we see just how long it its, it looks like a late 40s/early 50s kind of dress. Mrs. Fairfax is wearing a mobcap, and she looks somewhat more Victorian. Somewhat.
The camera pans to Adèle, who is asleep in a chair. Somehow, she’s managed to sleep through Jane and Mrs. Fairfax getting acquainted. When she wakes up, we see that this is a French Adèle, bad accent and all.
Jane and Mrs. Fairfax head up to their respective bedrooms. Mrs. Fairfax warns Jane that, since Thornfield is an old house, she may hear some strange noises. Cue eerie music! Mrs. F. carries a candelabra with her on her way up the stairs, but there’s still one fully lit in the room they are leaving behind (isn’t that a fire hazard?) and, interestingly, the amount of light in the room never changes. And people complain about 1970s/1980s production values — this is pretty much as primitive as you’ll get. Even movies of the time had better sets.
Jane sits on the bed, sighing about how wonderful life is at Thornfield, and she hears strange laughter. She goes out into the hall, and opens a door — Grace Poole comes over and scolds her for doing so. She’s a pretty imposing woman, and I’d make sure to do whatever she told me! As an aside, there appears to be a piano in Jane’s bedroom. That’s a little strange.
Jane and Rochester never have their meeting outside, so we have not yet seen Charlton Heston. Mrs. Fairfax comes scurrying into Jane’s room to tell her that the Master has arrived, and Jane goes to meet him in the same room we saw before. And we still don’t get to see Charlton Heston. All we see are a pair of hands fiddling with a cane/walking stick, but it’s definitely his voice questioning Jane. It’s kind of weird.
Finally he stands up and he’s wearing clothing that just makes me giggle. The book came out in 1847, and it takes place earlier. So I checked www.victoriana.com for men’s clothing in the 1830s. His outfit does not resemble any of these. In fact, it looks more like Regency fashion, with the jacket cut short in the front. I’m not a fashion historian, but this just seems wrong to me. I’d appreciate it if anyone with more knowledge of the subject could edify me. But Jane’s clothing definitely looks wrong. He’s also wearing some sort of bandana-type thing around his neck that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose.
Anyway, back to the story. Jane and Adèle are outside, practicing Adèle’s English, and Rochester invites Jane to dine with him. After he gets a “yes” out of her, he leaves and goes inside. More eerie music follows, the camera pans up a few feet, and there is a woman at a window, looking down at Jane. She actually looks like Elsa Lanchester from the Bride of Frankenstein. How subtle!
Jane and Edward are talking after their dinner together (and it seems to me that Jane hasn’t changed clothes yet. Not once!). Edward tells Jane that people think Adèle is his child, but that she is, in fact the child of a French dancer who ran off with a lover. This is the first version I’ve seen where they’ve even hinted at Adèle’s real story.
Instead of Bertha setting fire to Edward’s bedroom, we see her sneaking down the stairs into the same room that most of the action has taken place in while Edward is asleep in a chair near the fireplace (where no fire is burning). She no longer looks like Elsa Lanchester; she has buck teeth and a goofy grin, along with what appears to be a bald spot at the back of her head. She also seems to be way too old to have been married to Charlton Heston’s Edward. IMDb does not tell us who the actress is, so I can’t find out when she was born. She takes a newspaper from a chair and sets that on fire right next to Edward. The resulting smoke does not wake him. She then sneaks upstairs, still grinning.
Jane hears some moaning sounds and that wakes her up. She seems to be wearing her dressing gown to bed, so all she does is put some shoes on before heading out into the hallway. There is a candle in front of her door, and somehow she knows this means she needs to run downstairs to save Mr. Rochester’s life. She’s very intuitive, this Jane! Edward tells her to tell everyone that a coal fell out of the (nonexistent) fire.
Cut to commercial. Yes, the Internet Archive keeps the original commercials. This is VERY cool. It stars Betty Furness and a Westinghouse electric range. When I was younger, Betty Furness was a consumer reporter for WNBC Channel 4 in New York; these Westinghouse commercials are way before my time.
Commercial over. Back to Jane Eyre.
A well-dressed woman is doing a bad job pretending to play the piano (or, as Heston referred to it earlier, the spinet). Jane has finally changed clothes, and now she’s doing a bad job pretending to play the spinet. I gather the 2 women who are being very rude are Lady Ingram and “Lady” Blanche (who’s a brunette, by the way). These two are the only actors in the entire production who are attempting to do an English accent. Jane goes outside and starts to cry and Mrs. Fairfax goes out to comfort her. She tells Mrs. Fairfax that she’s in love with Mr. Rochester. Huh? Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that he only enjoys her company because he’s bored and lonely.
Edward tells Blanche that he’s not worth anything, and fade to black.
Jane is now packing for Ireland, and Adèle runs in sobbing. She refers to Rochester as “papa,” which I’ve never heard before.
Finally — some dialogue from the book. Rochester tells Jane “I have no bride.” And then the bit about the string under his ribs. It’s about time.
Richard Mason arrives minutes before the wedding and asks to see Mrs. Poole. Yes, Mrs. Poole. She speaks with Mason and the attorney in the same room where 99.99999999% of the action takes place, and then says that she doesn’t want the rest of the household to see her talking to him. Bizarre.
During the wedding ceremony, the eerie music starts up again, and we see Bertha looking down on the wedding from her window. Mason and the attorney interrupt the wedding, and Rochester says “there will not be a wedding today” with Bertha staring over his shoulder from the window. Again, truly bizarre. And, of course, a chance for another commercial break. This time, Betty Furness hawks a Westinghouse “electric sheet” (my grandparents had one of those and it really was very toasty).
Anyway, after the aborted wedding, Edward tells Jane to leave because “your business here is finished.” But then he asks her to stay; he doesn’t ask her to be his mistress and to go to Europe with him, but I’m betting that’s because the PTB (PTW?) in the 1940s wouldn’t allow that.
Next we see Jane sitting “outdoors” wearing scarves in such a way that she looks almost like a mummy. Then she hears Edward’s voice calling to her and she heads back to Thornfield. We don’t know how long she’s been gone, or where she’s been, or how she’s been surviving, but she somehow shows up at the house and is greeted warmly by Mrs. Fairfax. Only the West wing of the house burned down, and Mr. Rochester survived. He’s blind, and I am left to wonder for the zillionth time why blind people in the movies never blink. He does get to keep his hand, however, and we never learn about how he is able to see his first born. They hug.
This is bad. Laughably bad, but still bad. It’s an example of unintentional badness, I think, but it still bears very little resemblance to the original story and is, in effect, “inspired by” Jane Eyre, rather than “based on” Jane Eyre. Fans of the book and movies really should see it, if only for the historical value of the production itself.
As an aside, do yourself a favor and check out the Internet Archive. There’s a lot of good stuff there from the early days of television. It’s worth a visit.