February 18, 2010

Justify My Netflix: Jane Eyre (1934)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Jane Eyre (1934)

Today's movie: Jane Eyre, 1934 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I finally read this Victorian classic not too long ago, as part of the "CCLaP 100" essay series, so thought it'd be fun to also watch the seven film adaptations of it currently being carried by Netflix, and to watch them in chronological order so to view the changing nature of the movie industry. (Today's adaptation is from 1934, the very first "talkie" version of the book ever made, starring Frankenstein's Colin Clive as Edward Rochester.)

The reality: This is actually pretty fascinating from a historical aspect; it's a product of the infamous Monogram Pictures, one of the minor "Poverty Row" film studios from the dawn of that industry, who made a nice living for themselves by spitting out an endless series of low-budget, two-reel, sixty-minute genre actioners (mostly Westerns -- they were the ones in fact who invented that genre's meme of wisecracking cowboy trios), but who also found success in doing loose adaptations of public-domain classics, starting with the surprise popularity of their Oliver Twist a few years previous. And that's really the most important thing for Bronte purists to know about this particular adaptation, that like many studios back then, Monogram doesn't even try to stay faithful to the book -- in their version, Rochester is a good-looking dandy, Jane a sassy fistfighter, and the entirety of her life before Thornfield Manor is neatly summed up in a five-minute prologue. As you can imagine, this movie looks and sounds exactly like you would expect from a low-budget 1934 quickie being made with beat-up 1920s equipment, making it an interesting exercise for fans of early cinema but a huge disappointment for fans of the novel. It should be kept in mind before renting it yourself. (Coming next, by the way, the 1944 version starring Orson Welles!)

Strangest piece of trivia: The main reason Monogram decided to make this in the first place was because they still had the Victorian sets that had been created for Oliver Twist; in fact, these sets were to remain standing for another twenty years, and were used in nearly every Charlie Chan movie this studio cranked out during the war years.

Worth your time? For fans of film history, yes; for everyone else, no

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:24 AM, February 18, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |