So, I’ve finally seen it- the first talkie Jane Eyre, from 1934. It was…different, to say the least. First off, it’s only an hour long, so a lot was cut and rushed. Jane’s years at Lowood (an orphanage in this version) are condensed to her arrival and then the page from the book describing those years! (Yes, they just filmed the book page). There’s no Helen Burns or illness outbreak. Aside from the main characters, those smaller parts that are kept are blink and you’ll miss it. Other transitions are done with Jane writing in her diary.
Secondly, it’s very watered down. It’s not a screwball comedy like the 1940 Pride and Prejudice by any means, but it’s definitely much lighter in tone than the book. The characters are happier and the darker stuff from the book is either cut or just watered down. I’m no movie buff, but I think I read somewhere that this was because it was the Great Depression and they didn’t want to depress people more. Also, aside from Colin Clive, the majority of the cast is American and most of them don’t do that great of a job hiding their accents.
Virginia Bruce as Jane Eyre
Yes, instead of a “Plain Jane,” we got a Blonde Bombshell. I’ll give them credit though- they made no secret of it. Unlike other adaptations to cast pretty actresses, they didn’t even try to pretend she was plain. They openly acknowledged that she was pretty. It was kind of weird, but at least they were honest! Her Jane is very outspoken and not at all reserved. She never advertises so I don’t know how she gets the job at Thornfield, but she says she has a small inheritance from her uncle. There’s never anything with her uncle Eyre or the Rivers being her cousins.
Colin Clive as Edward Rochester
This Rochester is always quite cheery and polite with Jane. All the passion between them is gone. Nothing like the book character at all. I thought they were going to cut his blindness at the end completely! But, no, they didn’t go that far. They didn’t have him lose his eye or hand, but I think most of the adaptations have done that.
David Torrence as Mr. Brocklehurst
They kept his personality mostly intact. Jane doesn’t meet him until she gets to the orphanage. He never loses his complete power as the master here. He fires Jane because she stuck up for a student who drew a caricature of him. She tells him off before leaving and says he “ought to be tarred and feathered, you ugly old crocodile!” Yes, really.
Beryl Mercer as Mrs. Fairfax
She doesn’t really do much. I can remember absolutely nothing remarkable about her character, whatsoever.
John Rogers as Sam Poole
Sam Poole? Who’s that? At first I thought they replaced Grace with a man for some reason. But no, he’s her husband and the drunkard. They didn’t want to show a female alcoholic? Grace has very little to do in this aside from keeping Jane out of Bertha’s room.
Aileen Pringle as Blanche Ingram
She’s not in it very much. The house party is cut down to one ball scene, where Blanche and Rochester dance. She’s also considerably uglier than Jane.
Claire du Brey as Bertha Rochester
The wild look is completely gone! She’s apparently still dangerous because she sets fire to Rochester’s bed. But then she thinks they’re getting married again and is all happy, although demented. Rochester was divorcing her in this, so I don’t even know why Jane left!
Edith Fellows as Adele Rochester
No, I did not get the name wrong. She’s Rochester’s niece in this. Nothing about the backstory in France at all. She’s a happy-go-lucky girl, but clumsy- she gets stuck in a tree, a vase, and trips over her own feet. Rochester dotes on her, constantly giving her presents and even tucking her into bed.
Desmond Roberts as Dr. John Rivers
He’s only in one scene. When Jane leaves Thornfield, she works serving soup at his mission- not teaching. There’s no indication of how much time has passed or how she got the job, or anything. He just calls her into his office, asks her to go to India and to marry him. She asks for time but writes in her diary that she will marry him.
Jean Darling as young Jane
I only included her for sake of completeness. She’s barely in it.
Talk about rushed! That’s a given, what with the run-time, but it was still stupid. Sam Poole comes to the mission and Jane serves him soup. He tells her what happened and she goes to find Rochester. She says she will never leave him, Mrs. Fairfax and Adele come in the room, and everyone is happy. That’s it.
The adult actors were decent with what they were given, but let’s be honest- this is a sugar-coated version of the story. I can’t say it’s a good adaptation (God, no!) or even a good movie, but it has value for hardcore Jane Eyre fans and/or collectors…like me!
My Rating: 5/10