Jane Eyre (Fontaine) is one of those waifish orphan girls who suffers from a bad attitude while she’s living with her evil aunt and her prissy cousin. It isn’t long though before the aunt tells Jane that she’s going to get to go away to a special school for girls.
Jane is excited because now she’ll get to learn stuff and be at a school where everyone will love her. This place she’s going is called Lowood and just to show her aunt who has all the stroke now that she’s off to this special school, she unleashes a vitriolic speech on the aunt in the front yard just before she tells the coachman to deliver her to her awesome new school!
When she gets to Lowood though, it doesn’t really look like an exclusive school for girls, so much as an exclusive school for girls who are orphans that nobody loves! Oh Auntie, that was a good one!
After serving ten long years at Lowood, Jane gets a lucrative job offer to be the governess at an English manor called Thornfield. When she gets there, the man of the house, Edward Rochester (Welles), is nowhere to be found, but she is welcomed by the housekeeper and is introduced to Adele, the little French kid that Edward is gallivanting around the world to no doubt avoid.
Though Welles’ Rochester is a globe trotting playboy, he’s actually much deeper than that. You see, whenever he comes back to Thornfield he likes to show his brooding side because of the secret he is carrying with him.
We love to see rich people with their dirty little secrets almost as we love to see rich people get their comeuppance so it comes as a welcome relief that there is something mysterious going on in one of Thornfield’s towers. Whatever it is cackles now and again and also sets Orson’s bed on fire!
Jane’s curiosity is piqued to say the least, but she has too much pining away to do to launch her own investigation. She’s gone and fallen in love with Eddie, but he has an empty-headed fiancee who is only after his money.
Just when it seems like Eddie is going to marry the blonde gold digger and Jane is ready to pack her stuff and leave her aching heart behind, he ditches the blonde and has his big scene where he gets Jane to vocally proclaim her love for him.
As she does, a gigantic storm rolls in, blowing stuff everywhere and a bolt of lightning hits a tree shattering a branch. Who is she in love with? Moses?
They decide to get married, but it gets called off at the last second because some nosy jackass picks that time to reveal Eddie’s secret to everyone.
Jane is crushed and leaves Eddie, eventually ending up back at her aunt’s house before running back off to Thornfield to wrap things up.
It’s safe to say that this one frequently goes way over the top in the melodrama department and Welles seems determined to show everyone how much blustery emotion he can pack into all his big speeches and moody stares, whereas Joan does a nice job of being the restrained gal who doesn’t want to allow herself to think that Eddie would ever want her.
The movie is watchable enough despite several moments that make you roll your eyes and wonder why director Robert Stevenson couldn’t get Orson to turn things down several notches.
I would have enjoyed it more if the movie could have cut out about thirty shots of Jane making cry baby faces in Eddie’s direction and ramped up the menace of the secret. In fact, this secret is treated like such a secondary thing for most of the movie that when it results in tragedy, you’re just kind of surprised, rather than dreading something like that would happen.
Jane Eyre is a bit too self-serious in its treatment of Eddie and Jane’s love (what was with all those storms?) and Welles stands out as “performing” at times he shouldn’t have, but if you can tolerate its sometimes sluggish pace, it’s a fair piece of English gothic.
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