Jane Eyre (1915)

MPAA Rating - NR
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This silent version of the Charlotte Bronte story ran but three reels (about 35 to 40 minutes) and trade paper Motion Picture News felt that was just about the right length. Perhaps it was for this lineup of Franklin Ritchie as Edward Rochester, Louise Vale as Jane Eyre, and Gretchen Hartman as Rochester's insane wife, Bertha. All these actors have been pretty much lost to history, but Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine, who starred in the 1943 feature were certainly able to carry a much longer film! All the important points of the Bronte story are squeezed into the abbreviated length, but the story was modernized -- Rochester falls in love with Bertha Mason while traveling in the West Indies and marries her, only discovering afterwards that she has inherited her mother's insanity. He takes her back to England and places her under a nurse's care, while hiring Jane Eyre as governess for his ward, Adele. He falls in love with Jane, and since the law says he cannot divorce his insane wife, he tries to keep her existence a secret. But Jane discovers the truth before they can wed and she leaves him. Bertha sets fire to the house and although Rochester saves Adele and the nurse, he is blinded. Bertha falls from the roof of the burning house and dies. Jane hears of Rochester's misfortune and returns to his side.

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