Oh look, its Joan Fontaine arriving in a creepy, old house with lots of candle lights, portraits and servants. And a housekeeper! Why, just yesterday she fainted all over the place in "Rebecca" and now she find herself in almost identical situation! For Fontaine this must have been sort of déjà vu but truth to be told, "Rebecca" was obviously inspired by Gothic masterpiece novel by Charlotte Brontë and not the other way around, even though cinema audiences must have felt confused. Recently I enjoyed 2011. version so much that I decided to check this one, since critics usually prefer older movies but I am not convinced that older is always necessary better.
Cinematography is beautiful as it should be - 1940s were glorious years of Hollywood black & white costume dramas, everything wrapped in ominous shadows, candles flicking, thunders and lightning galore, at times it almost feels as some old Universal horror movie. The first part is very, very good thanks to excellent child actress Peggy Ann Garner who embodies spirit of a tortured, sensitive orphaned girl and somehow we even have treat of discovering beautiful little Elizabeth Taylor tucked away in a orphanage, luminous in all that gloom. Otherwise funny Agnes Moorehead is also here as evil aunt who sends Jane Eyre out of her luxurious home into cruel hands of horrible Henry Daniell who deserves to burn in hell. My problem with this version comes the moment we encounter grown up Jane and Hollywood dream machine steps in - Fontaine is everything but obscure and plain governess, her obvious beauty confirming to the rules of the day but greatly hindering the believability of the character. Orson Welles, on the other hand, successfully played the role of Mr.Rochester on the radio where his commanding voice probably sounded very effective but this is completely different medium and visually he is neither attractive nor convincing as charismatic - if anything, he comes off as sadist who gets a kick out of playing game of cat and mouse with Fontaine, occasionally appearing downright unbalanced. Since we simply have to take this 1943. version as a period piece, it is enjoyable to a certain degree but honestly people, acting is stilted and subsequent versions are far more realistic.