Jane Eyre (1934) ***1/2

This creaky Monogram cheapo, running at just over an hour, manages to change the Bronte novel to such a degree that after the first ten minutes I had to stop laughing, forget about the book, and enjoy the film for what it is – essentially a film using characters from ‘Jane Eyre’.

Jane Eyre is a wilful child who is happy to go to Lowood and eventually is fired after calling her employer a ‘wicked old crocodile’. So the whole point of abuse of Lowood is lost with this flippant treatment and the complete removal of Helen Burns. Oh, and Jane swans off with ‘the inheritance she has from her uncle’. Eh? On her way to Thornfield with a comedy cart driver (added character, husband of Grace Poole) she steps down and gets in the way of Mr Rochester’s horse. OK, this is from the book, but her response to his questioning what she does at Thornfield is not! Once at the house, Adele is the English niece of ‘Uncle Edward’, so removing the point of illegitimacy and neglect of the child, who is now doted on.

Even the first scene of conversation between Jane and Rochester is off-kilter, especially when she takes to the piano and sings to him! Blanche Ingram is a matronly woman who couldn’t possibly compare with Jane’s ringlets; Adele does imitations of party guests for Blanche’s dad; and there is no Mason, no gypsy scene, no tension. There is the burning bed scene but that falls flat and has none of the drive we expect to see from that situation.

Rochester is waiting for an annulment to come through, so no obstacle to marrying Jane and no potential bigamy here. In fact Adele suggests he marries Jane and so he rushes to propose! The ‘mad’ wife seem strangely lucid, although Jane still leaves when she sees her and almost immediately it seems the house burns down.

John Rivers is included briefly as Jane goes to work for his mission and even agrees to marry him before meeting Mr Poole again and discovering about the Thornfield fire. Now her affections seem to change again and she goes back for the reconciliation with the now blind Rochester.

As Jane, Virginia Bruce is far too pretty but she was a good actress and, putting aside the book and other interpretations, is watchable and engaging. Colin Clive, best known for Frankenstein, plays Rochester with some skill but does not have enough to work with.

This version is too merry, too happy, without the complications and the discontent you would expect to see from a man disappointed with his lot and damaged from an inappropriate marriage to a madwoman.

I was glad to see it and have rated it fairly high because as a film on its own, it is quite good. As an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s complex novel it is a disgrace.