as Edward Rochester
nestled in the center of the long and varied career of George Orson Welles,
sits the small wartime black-and-white film Jane Eyre. Today, the film
is considered one of the best portrayals of the story, primarily attributed to
the multi-faceted expertise of Welles.
the sign of Taurus in 1915 in Kenosha,
Orson Welles became a household name at age 23 following his famous Mercury
Theatre on the Air performance of The War of the Worlds. The
dramatic reading of the H.G. Wells’ novel took place on Halloween Eve in 1938
and although reports of widespread panic of an actual alien invasion were
exaggerated, it still brought both Welles and Wells onto the public’s radar. Welles
established himself again with the groundbreaking 1941 film Citizen Kane,
still considered one of the greatest films ever made. The film’s major
accolades go to Welles’ revolutionary direction, innovative cinematography, dramatic
use of sound, and nonlinear narrative structure.
considered a Hollywood quadruple threat,
working in films with varying degrees as director, producer, actor, and
screenwriter. Welles occasionally chose to act in other director’s film to make
enough money to fund his own projects. In 1944, Welles starred in Jane Eyre
with Joan Fontaine, receiving screen credit as actor only, but also functioning
as associate producer. Welles had such a distinctive style as director that Jane
Eyre has been analyzed by film historians to infer which shots and scenes
Welles likely had directorial control. As director, Welles was known for
extreme contrast lighting, innovative camera angles, long takes, and creative
sound effects borrowed from his radio background. For Jane Eyre, some of
the screenplay may also be attributed to Welles’ since the Mercury Theater
on the Air version of the script was used for core material and Welles had
collaborated on its creation.
performance in Jane Eyre can be interpreted as overbearing and
unrealistic, but the story itself is operatic in nature due to its extreme
characterizations. Welles’ booming voice and over-dramatic dialogue fits the
perception of Rochester
as seen through Jane’s point of view. She sees Rochester as larger than
life, holding her delicate future in his strong hands. Welles’ piecing eyes,
baritone voice, and perfect timing all blend to make
the perfect Rochester.
Director Bernard Herrmann, also a favorite of Hitchcock, brings to the film his
uncanny ability to portray emotions through music. Herrmann was writing the
full-length opera Wuthering
Heights at the
same time he was scoring Jane Eyre, sharing some themes in both pieces.
Sweeping throughout the film, Herrmann’s magical score supports and surrounds
Jane and Rochester,
lifting them to their operatic destinies.