A young Jane Eyre thinks she is escaping Hell when she is sent from the home of her unloving aunt to a boarding school, but she has simply traded one Hell for another. Despite the attempts of sadistic Henry Daniell, she survives her years at the school with her spirit intact, and, now a grown woman (Joan Fontaine), she goes to work as a governess at the gothic home of Edward Rochester (Orson Welles). She perceives something good behind his forbidding extrior, and finds herself falling in lov… with her haunted employer. But what is the secret in the locked tower?
Charlotte Brontë’s novel is given the full gothic treatment here, with marvellously brooding cinematography, sinister sets, and a gigantic performance from Welles. The script (by director Robert Stevenson, Aldous Huxley and John Houseman) is a model of adaptation, and the force of the entire production hasn’t diminished one jot in 60-plus years. Viewing this film reminds one of just how pallid the Franco Zeffirelli version from a few years back really is.
Mono and stereo versions are, as ever in this series of releases, both on offer. The usual indiscriminate surround issues are there, but the volume in the rear speakers is sufficiently low that most viewers are unlikely to be bothered by the wraparound voices. The sound is, it must be said, quite rich for a remastered 1944 track, especially the music.
A note prior to the beginning of the film essentially warns the viewers that the picture quality isn’t going to be perfect, but what’s on display here is pretty damn good. The blacks and contrasts are stupendous. George Barnes’ gorgeously atmospheric cinematography is almost perfectly preserved. There are, granted, a few shots where the grain is noticeable, but these are few and far between.
There are two commentary tracks here. The first features Welles biographer Joseph McBride, who is joined by Margaret O’Brien (who plays Rochester’s young ward in the film). The second track has a broader focus, and is a round table moderated by the always interesting Nick Redman, here joined by historians Steven Smith and Julie Kirgo. Good stuff all around, and there is considerable discussion about how much, if any, influence Welles had on the direction, a theme that is picked up in the featurette, “Locked in the Tower, The Men Behind Jane Eyre.” A third track isolates the score and FX. “Know Your Ally Britain” is a propaganda piece Stevenson did for the War Department during WWII, and is an interesting curiosity. The other usual extras are here, too: restoration comparison, theatrical trailer, and photo galleries (covering production, storyboards and posters). On top of everything else, there’s a set of lobby cards packaged with the disc.
Great package, even better (and still definitive) film.
Special Features List
- 2 Audio Commentaries
- Isolated Score and FX Track
- “Locked in the Tower: The Men Behind Jane Eyre” Featurette
- “Know Your Ally Britain” Short
- Restoration Comparison
- Theatrical Trailer
- Production, Storyboard and Poster Galleries
- Lobby Cards