(1934)2Bruce EderMonogram Pictures' Jane Eyre (1934) dates from the short-lived period in which the low-rent Hollywood studio tried its hand at filming literary classics and also reached out beyond the confines of its contract players to engage such stars as Colin Clive. It's about as sincere an effort, if not quite as successful, as William Cowan's version of Oliver Twist (done at the same studio the previous year), though with a short running time, it is rather rushed, with none of the psychological depth of Robert Stevenson's 1944 version of Jane Eyre, starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. After an introductory sequence featuring ex-Our Gang (and future Broadway) star Jean Darling as young Jane and future director Richard Quine as an extremely obnoxious (and totally convincing) John Reed, nine chapters of the book and eight years in the title-character's life pass with the flipping of some pages onscreen at seven minutes in. We then meet the grown-up Jane Eyre, played by Virginia Bruce, who does a surprisingly good job, given the limitations of the production, which, at early moments in the film, seems more like "Scenes from Jane Eyre." The direction is at times very arch and the camera work flat and unimaginative, at least until Edward Rochester is introduced. Few of Colin Clive's movies, apart from the two Frankenstein films that he made at Universal, and perhaps Christopher Strong, are extant today, and it's fascinating to see him in something other than those three movies. He shows greater range here, and more warmth, than one is accustomed to seeing from him in the Frankenstein films -- there's no question that he was a better actor than Christy Cabanne was a director of actors, because he quietly runs circles around the rest of the cast as he reads his lines or moves across the screen. There are some interesting scene transitions in which the camera suddenly becomes mobile and a scene involving a ball that tries hard to look like one of the most expensive in the history of Monogram. Otherwise, there is little here to recommend on artistic grounds, and other than its appeal to Clive's fans or to Charlotte Brontë completists, this Jane Eyre is merely a strange, diverting curio from an extremely unlikely studio.
This version of the Charlotte Bronte classic is the first to use sound. The story closely follows the book as it chronicles the romantic travails of a troubled orphan girl who grows up to be a governess in love with her employer who returns her affections. She has finally found happiness. Alas, her happiness is short-lived as she learns that her love has locked his crazy wife in a remote wing of the house. The distraught governess flees and gets engaged to a new man. Just before they marry, she learns that her true love's house has burned down, immolating his wife and leaving him nearly blind. Without hesitation she returns to him and romantic bliss ensues.