100+ New Code Films – #7. “Jane Eyre” from 1943

Today is Sunday, so it’s time for this week’s second 100+ New Code Films article. My plan is to publish at least two of these articles each week in 2021. Every article is a review of an American Breen Era (1934-1954) film which I have seen for the first time during the week. Why do I refer to those twenty years as the American Breen Era? From July of 1934 until his retirement in October of 1954, Joseph I. Breen was the head of the Production Code Administration (PCA). This Hollywood branch of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), later Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), was responsible for enforcing the Motion Picture Production Code. This was a set of guidelines which ensured that all films were decent for everyone. No one enforced it effectively before or after Mr. Breen’s tenure, so we named the Golden Era of Code enforcement (and American filmmaking, for the matter) after him.

Jane Eyre (1943) - IMDb

Today’s topic is Jane Eyre from 1943. My latest project for the Epoch Times is a review of three classic films based on classic novels. As research, I watched two novel-based movies which I had never seen before during this week. One was Wuthering Heights (1939), a title with which I was quite familiar. The other was Jane Eyre (1943), a film of which I was previously unaware. I watched both movies on Amazon Prime Video on Wednesday afternoon. My favorite of the two was Jane Eyre, so I chose to review it today.

Jane Eyre (1943) Review | The Young Folks

Plot

Anyone familiar with the famous novel will recognize the basic story. A power orphan girl chooses to leave her cruel aunt’s home to go to an institute, only to find that it is even colder and harsher than her hated aunt’s abode. There, she befriends a sweet, sickly girl, who eventually dies of consumption because of the school’s harsh conditions. When the orphan girl is grown, she declines the teaching position she is offered, instead becoming a governess at a remote manor on the moors. When she arrives at the gloomy mansion, she realizes that the woman who hired her is not her charge’s mother but the housekeeper. Her job is to care for a young French girl, whose guardian is a very wealthy but frequently absent man. The governess finds the circumstances pleasant, and she grows to love the motherless child. One day, she startles a horse on the moors, and its surly rider is very annoyed with her. She soon realizes that the disagreeable man is her mysterious employer. Although he intimidates most people, she meets his gaze and is glad to talk to him, He is impressed by her intelligence and frank personality, and they quickly develop an unlikely friendship. For the first time in her life, the orphaned governess feels that someone may value her as a person. However, there are still many mysteries in the vast house, and she knows that many secrets lurk behind locked doors.

Jane Eyre (1943) movie poster

Cast

This movie stars Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, and Margaret O’Brien. Supporting actors include Peggy Ann Garner, Edith Barrett, Hillary Brooke, Agnes Moorehead, and Henry Daniell.

1943 Movie Ad ~ Jane Eyre ~ Joan Fontaine, Vintage Movie Ads

Production Notes

This movie was directed by Robert Stevenson. It was produced by William Goetz and Kenneth Macgowan with associate producer Orson Welles. The production company was 20th Century Fox. The screenplay was written by Aldous Huxley, Robert Stevenson, and John Houseman, based on the novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë.

Jane Eyre (1943) Posters, Prints, Paintings & Wall Art | AllPosters.com

Code Compliance

This is a perfect Code film. It is an excellent example of a great Breen Era film adaption of a wonderful 19th-century novel. Jane Eyre is a classic which is frequently assigned to students in high school. It is such a beloved book that making a film out of it is a difficult task under any circumstances. An added challenge was presented during the Breen Era because stories had to comply with the Production Code’s content standards, which many novels did not meet. Screenwriters were tasked with removing Code-violations without compromising the story’s artistic value. When properly done, this could make stories into even better films. This is such a good example that it is a perfect Code film. The first section of the film is set at the harsh Lowood Institute. In a high school literary course, I read this section from the book. The film painted a grim, cold atmosphere at this school, making us sympathize with the plights of the poor orphaned girls. However, it did so without being gruesome, unduly disturbing, or so bleak that the viewers are left feeling hopeless. Also, the time at Lowood was shortened, so we weren’t forced to wallow in the misery too long. The other difficult point is Edward Rochester’s (Orson Welles) past amorous immorality. The mysterious lord of Thornfield Hall has a morally ambiguous past, but it is handled very delicately in the film. He makes vague references which tell the whole situation to mature viewers while leaving younger viewers in the dark. It is also completely apparent that he repents of his past sins. However, unlike in the book, he never suggests that Jane live with him out of wedlock, since he is unable to get married.

Jane Eyre (1943) Review | The Young Folks

Recommendation

I highly recommend this movie. It’s an amazing story! I haven’t read the whole book; I just read the first section about her school days. However, this a remarkable film just on its own merit. You don’t have to know about or like the book to appreciate this movie. It’s a cinematographic masterpiece, but it’s highly underrated. I can’t believe that I had never heard of this film before I started researching Regency Era films. Ironically enough, all three films I am reviewing for the Epoch Times ended up being set in the Victorian Era, since Hollywood filmmakers found the Regency fashions of the books’ setting unflattering. That aside, this movie should receive more acclaim for being a masterpiece. It has a similar feeling to Citizen Kane, what with Orson Welles’s contributions, brooding black-and-white cinematography, and a chilling Bernard Hermann score. As a matter of fact, I greatly prefer this movie to Citizen Kane. While Orson Welles’s transformation and decades-long performance as Mr. Kane is very impressive, I personally preferred him as Edward Rochester. This film is more conventional in its narrative, so it gives viewers a better opportunity to get to know him. I was very impressed by his British accent; he even mumbles very convincingly, as native British people often do. This is such a nuanced character that I found myself thinking about him and his piercing eyes long after watching the film. Of course, the star character is Jane Eyre herself, who is beautifully played by Joan Fontaine. She is perfect in this role. As with Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949), it’s hard to think of this beauty as plain, as she frequently calls herself. However, she has a simple beauty which is very appropriate for the part. Her narration, accompanied by pages from the book’s text, adds a lot to the story. The supporting cast is filled with memorable names and face like Agnes Moorehead, Henry Daniell, and even an uncredited young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s childhood friend, Helen Burns. The setting of Thornfield is so believable and intriguingly gloomy. I don’t know where they filmed it or if it was just a set, but it certainly looks real! This is one of the best new movies I have seen so far this year. I highly recommend it!

Extra Movies Watched This Week:

Panama Hattie (1942) - IMDb

Fair Code Film, Recommended

Wuthering Heights (1939 film) - Wikipedia

Perfect Code Film, Recommended

The Girl from Missouri - Wikipedia

Poor Code Film, Recommended

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