Book vs. Movie: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre was already next on my Lit Flicks Challenge list, but when I happened to be the October giveaway winner and The Bluestocking Society kindly sent me the book (thanks, Jessica!) I wanted to get to it right away.

Before reading or seeing Jane Eyre, I did have some idea of the general plot: Jane is a governess who comes to work in a creepy house for a brooding man with a big secret. (It's a good thing I knew the secret, too, since my copy of the book included an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates that revealed all the major plot details and many of the twisty bits. Seriously, there should have been a spoiler warning with it -- surely there are some people reading the book for the first time with no idea what it's about who would like to enjoy a few surprises.)

Since I did know how the story would go, I was afraid that reading through the book would be tedious, but I actually enjoyed it very much. The way it's written (as a first-person account of Jane telling the reader her story) felt very intimate and interesting. The only time it didn't work for me was when the big secret is revealed; during this time things seemed a bit rushed and Jane's reactions didn't come until later. All I can assume is that she was struck and in shock, but coming to know the characters I think more would have been said and thought during this critical time.

If you don't like Jane, you will probably not enjoy the novel, but I really liked Jane. I liked her strong will and character. I also liked Mr. Rochester, despite his dubious past and the way he deceived Jane. Maybe I like him because Jane does, or because they do seem like a well-matched pair of intellectual equals. You can analyze a lot more about the various themes of the novel, like what it says about religion, morality, duty, forgiveness, and marriage, but I was happy enough to read through the rest because I really liked Jane and Rochester, and I wanted to see their love story play out.

The movie version I chose to watch was the 1944 adaptation, mostly because it stars Orson Welles, and I really like him. He is great as Rochester; he can carry off the speeches and he has the right amount of darkness and intensity to him. I was also delighted to see Agnes Moorehead, a young Elizabeth Taylor, the little girl from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Peggy Ann Garner) and child actress Margaret O'Brien, adorable as Adele. I wasn't particularly impressed with Joan Fontaine as Jane, though. (She also starred in Rebecca, based on the Daphne du Maurier novel which seems at least partially inspired by Jane Eyre.) Fontaine's Jane is much too meek and is really overpowered by Welles' Rochester. This removes what I enjoyed most about the novel, the match of equal minds that defines the relationship. In the novel, Jane is independent and holds her own against Rochester; in the movie I couldn't imagine what he saw in her, really.

I know it's always hard to show inner thoughts and feelings of characters in a movie, but I really missed how the book explains what's going on in Jane's head. Another thing that annoyed me about the movie: at the beginning, a book is shown onscreen and a voice-over reads what is written on the page. But the passage is way different from the book's opening. At other times during the movie, this same technique is used again. The voice-over alone would have been fine, but the suggestion that what is read is from the novel was really irritating. While I do understand the need to change and condense things when making a book into a movie, if you aren't remaining faithful to the book, don't show me text in a book as though you are staying completely true to the story. (Rant over.)

So, when it comes right down to it, does the book or the movie prevail? While the 1944 movie is beautifully shot and appropriately dark and atmospheric, it is also perhaps more melodramatic than even the crazy twists of novel would allow. The acting is mostly good, and it is fine as a movie, but overall I preferred the story in novel form. However, there are a lot of other Jane Eyre adaptations, and perhaps some do more justice to book. (I am intrigued by the version with George C. Scott because to me he really fits the description of Rochester: not exactly handsome, yet intense and strangely magnetic. If anyone's seen this version, or another adaptation, let me know what you thought.)

Oh, and while we're on the subject of Jane Eyre, I'd like to recommend Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. It's the first of his funny Thursday Next series, which features a literary detective in an alternate reality where characters from books are quite real and traveling into the world of a book is physically possible. This story deals with Jane Eyre's kidnapping and the changing of the famous novel's plot. I want to re-read this now that I've finally read Jane Eyre.

So, that's two down for Lit Flicks, three more to go. I think I might deviate from my original list and choose something different for my next pick... stay tuned!


Leading Couples

Tomorrow night kicks off TCM's Leading Couples Film Festival -- two Tuesday nights of movies featuring some of Hollywood's most famous couples. This is timed to go along with the release of TCM's book, Leading Couples, which I first heard about through Raquelle's review of it on her blog, Out of the Past.

The book has many of the classic movie couples you'd expect (like Bogart/Bacall and Tracy/Hepburn) as well as some more obscure pairings and one really bizarre one. (Fay Wray and King King? Really?) Two types of couples are featured: those that made several films together and those that made a big impression together just one time on film. While I understand that they were trying to make things fair and not feature one person too many times, the rules of the book do mean that some great pairings (like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn) are missing.

It's a great book for flipping through and reading a little at a time. I've enjoyed learning some useless but fun trivia, like how during filming on Gone With the Wind, Clark Gable taught Vivian Leigh to play backgammon and she in turn introduced him to battleship. I'm also getting some ideas for more movies to add to my watch list. One thing that does make me a little sad about the book: in the facts about each person, spouses are listed, and so many of these stars had several (often brief) marriages. I just think it's a shame that the people who made up some of the most romantic pairs on screen often had troubles in their personal romantic lives. Although I guess their movie love stories didn't always end happily, either.

Anyway, it's a good book for a classic movie fan. For a limited time, you can enter to win your own copy here.

What's your favorite film couple, classic or otherwise?


I've got a scene to share with you

Some years ago, a friend and I talked about having a Movie Moments party, the plan being to invite people to come with a movie clip to share. There were several variations on the idea: we could choose a theme or just ask for favorites, we could sit and discuss the clips or take a vote and pick a movie to watch based on the scenes. While we never quite got around to making this happen, I still think it's a good idea.

So I've decided to start sharing some interesting movie scenes here, beginning with the one I had in mind for the party that never happened.

From Out of Africa:

After her wedding, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) is on her way to change clothes for the two-hour journey to her new home. She passes a room, door ajar, and sees an ivory tusk that Denys Finch Hatten (Robert Redford) had earlier loaded onto her stopped train. Curious, she steps into the room and looks around.

When Berkeley Cole (Michael Kitchen) arrives with the second tusk, an embarrassed Karen tries to come up with some excuse for her presence, but ends up admitting that he caught her snooping. Berkeley assures her that this is quite all right, since it is Denys's room, and the thing about Denys is that he doesn't mind.

Karen comments on the lovely books and asks if Denys lends them. Berkeley says: "We had a friend... Hopworth, and he'd got a book from Denys and he didn't return it. Denys was furious. I said to Denys, 'You wouldn't lose a friend for the sake of a silly book, would you?' And he said 'No... but he has, hasn't he?' "

After some small talk, Berkeley goes into another story: "I had a friend who I used to take to the dances at Oxford. They were in June by the river. She always wore a new silk dress... I think you're wearing her perfume." Karen obligingly holds out her wrist to him and he concludes: "No. It's very nice. But it's not the same."

I love this scene, and not just because it tends to come to mind when a friend takes a long time returning something they've borrowed from me.

This is a wonderful character introduction, giving us a real feel for Berkeley's British-ness as well as hints of his past and his view of Denys. The actors are great here; even writing out the dialogue can't do justice to the nuances of spoken inflections and body language. The mood created fits the whole tone of the movie quite well.

I especially love how the scene progresses from an awkward first meeting to two people finding a comfort level with each other as an understanding and intimacy develops; what you are witnessing is the beginning of a lovely friendship.

What clip would you pick for a Movie Moments party? Post or link your own scene to share here.


It's the little things...

I've gotten a few rentals so far from ClassicFlix.com. The movies have arrived with some cool stamps: first Frank Sinatra, then Bette Davis. I really like that the company's commitment to the classics extends to their choice of postage.


Book Review: Love Walked In

What's a book review doing on a movie blog? Well, while it's not a movie yet, Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos has been optioned by Paramount, with Sarah Jessica Parker apparently interested in starring. Also, there are a lot of classic movie references in this book, which is the reason I picked it up in the first place.

Love Walked In tells the interwoven stories of Cornelia, a diminutive 31-year-old coffee shop manager obsessed with old movies, and Clare, an 11-year old girl dealing with her mother's mental breakdown. The book is written in alternating chapters that switch between first and third person perspectives. While this does work for making the two characters distinct, it is also occasionally jarring going back and forth.

The good:
  • The writing is intelligent and interesting and occasionally insightful.
  • I personally enjoyed the nod to old movies, but then, I do tend to think in movie moments myself. Someone who doesn't like or know many classic movies might get tired of this after a while. Also referred to: various books, fictional characters, and poetry. In general these references were explained enough to make the point or left light enough so that it wouldn't matter if you didn't know what the author was talking about. I didn't get every one, but when I did know the source I thought it illuminated and enhanced the story.
The nit-picks:
  • Whatever happened to the "i" in Claire? I blame The Time Traveler's Wife for this Clare business. (And while we're at it, the covers of these two books are very similar. Hmm.)
  • The quirky best friend thing. So many modern heroines (in books and movies) have a quirky best friend who dresses strangely, speaks outspokenly, is always there when needed and easily picks up on her friend's every mood and thought. (Maybe I'm just jealous because I want a quirky best friend.)
The unbelievable:
  • No 11-year-old I know is as wise as Clare. While I feel for this character's plight, she is way too precocious to be believed.
  • Practically everyone in the book is gorgeous and/or resembles a movie star. Characters are described as looking like Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Myrna Loy... One character is so beautiful that he makes people stupid at the sight of him. I accept unusual beauty in the movies, but life is not a casting call and most people are pretty ordinary-looking.
  • When Clare's mother disappears, no one wants to make an issue of it. I can understand Clare wanting to keep her mother's problems a secret, but all the other adults seem to want to keep things under wraps. Why is this a good idea?
  • The last third of the book is really contrived. Everything is wrapped up tidily thanks to two convenient deaths (if death can be called convenient), an unexpected inheritance, some well timed departures and arrivals and people being way too willing to turn their whole lives upside down.
The book is occasionally touching and does have some nice ideas about finding love in unexpected places, but overall the unrealistic twists kept me from really loving it.

One thing the book and I agree on: The Philadelphia Story is a great movie and you should see it. The book holds as a universal truth that "Jimmy Stewart is always and indisputably the best man in the world, unless Cary Grant should happen to show up." This may be true, although the idea is not really followed through in the book, and it is not really the point of the movie. While the book hits on the fabulousness of Katharine Hepburn and the rightness of a satisfying love story, there is so much more to The Philadelphia Story. The main theme of the movie could be better summed up in this quote from it: "The time to make up your mind about people is never." The ideas about human frailty and class prejudices and privacy and people being able to change are much richer than the themes of Love Walked In, and the characters have more depth and appeal, too. Also, the dialogue is light-years better. So when and if the movie adaptation of this book does come out, I am much more likely to just re-watch The Philadelphia Story instead.


Preview Pixar's latest

Just wanted to share the trailer for the upcoming Disney-Pixar movie Up. The trailer opens with a brief look at previous Pixar movies, just to show why you can expect this one to be good as well. I think the only Pixar movie I didn't see was Cars (because it just didn't appeal to me). My favorites are probably Toy Story 2 and WALL-E. What's your favorite Pixar movie?


Thanks for the Melodies

The L.A.M.Blog_A_Thon kicks off this month with the theme "Who are you thankful for?", the idea being to show some appreciation for film professionals other than actors and directors. I've decided to focus on the people behind the music in movies.

It seems impossible to talk about movie music without mentioning John Williams. He's well-known, well-respected, and has written some very beautiful film scores. The musical themes Williams creates are memorable and always seem to strike the right emotional chord. Can you think of an Indiana Jones movie without having the music come to mind? I know I can't. Superman and Jurassic Park also have instantly recognizable themes. And can you imagine the Star Wars universe without the John Williams score? Funky 70s music could have easily sent the first film into camp instead of classic, but the music John Williams composed elevates the whole thing. Williams can also do a lot with only a few notes, as proved by Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I also love the music from Catch Me if You Can. Sample it in the wonderfully stylized opening title sequence.

Another film composer I like is Henry Mancini. He's probably best known for The Pink Panther's jazzy theme and Breakfast at Tiffany's "Moon River". For the latter he had the lyrical help of Johnny Mercer, who also penned the words to Mancini's "Charade" and "Days of Wine and Roses".

Johnny Mercer is probably my favorite lyricist ever. His songs show he really loved language, playing with words for some very clever lines. In addition to the songs mentioned above that he did with Mancini, he also wrote the words for many other great songs used in movies. Credit him for the lyrics to: "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening", "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive", "Blues in the Night", "Hooray for Hollywood", "Too Marvelous for Words", "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby", "Come Rain or Come Shine", "Jeepers Creepers", "One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)", "Laura", and all the songs in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He wrote both words and music for "Something's Gotta Give", "Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)", and "I'm an Old Cowhand". Although many of these songs were written for old movies, a quick look at Mercer's imdb page shows that his work has withstood the test of time, as his songs are still showing up in movies today. Way to go, Johnny.

While great movies need great writers, actors and directors, great music can really become an essential part of a film and enhance the movie-watching experience. So I'm grateful for movie music and the talented people that make it happen.


The Alphabet Meme

The idea here is simple: Pick your favorite film for each letter of the alphabet. Thanks go to Blog Cabins for getting this started. Check there for more detailed rules, or read my summary below.
  • Choose one film for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Using a film that starts with "A" for A or "The" for T is not allowed.
  • Films from a series must use the first letter of the actual title they were released under (ex: Return of the Jedi would go under R and not S for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi).
  • Films that begin with a number belong filed under the first letter of that number spelled out (ex: 12 Angry Men would go under T).
  • Link back to Blog Cabins in your post to give credit where it's due.
  • If you're selected, tag 5 more people. (If you're not tagged, it's fine to make your own list anyway!)
I just did my top 50 movies, which should have given me a major head start here. But I thought it would be more fun (and challenging) to come up with movies I like that didn't quite make that list. So here they are:

Aladdin (my last list was sadly lacking in animated films)

Big Sleep, The

Corrina, Corrina (because Tina Majorino is super cute and reminds me of my niece)

Days of Wine and Roses, The

Ever After

Fugitive, The


How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It Happened One Night

Jurassic Park

King and I, The

Long Hot Summer, The


Natural, The (not my favorite baseball movie, that would be A League of Their Own)

Ocean's Eleven

Parent Trap, The (1961)

Queen, The (although I prefer The African Queen)

Regarding Henry

Stranger Than Fiction

Thirty-Nine (39) Steps, The

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The

V irgin Queen, The (2005)


X-Men (what else is there?)

You Can't Take It With You

Ziegfeld Follies (well, at least the bit with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly)

Whew, that was not easy! Because of the constraints, I can't say that I love all the movies on here. And I still feel like I'm missing some of my favorites. Oh, well, I still had fun with this.

Next, I tag Cesia and David Bishop. (Since you've both just made your top movie lists, it should be easy, unless you opt for new titles too.)

If you want to play along but get stumped along the way, try Yahoo! Movies to browse titles by letter.


Review: Rachel and the Stranger

I'm not usually a big fan of Westerns, but since I do like both William Holden and Robert Mitchum, I decided to give Rachel and the Stranger a chance.

Holden plays David Harvey, a widower so worried about his young son growing up wild and woodsy without a woman around that he heads into town one day determined to return with one. What he gets (for a price) is the bondswoman Rachel (Loretta Young). Since it wouldn't be decent for them to live together unmarried, he weds her, although it soon becomes clear that she will be treated more as a servant than a wife.

Rachel is eager to please, anxious to find out and fulfill what is expected of her. She becomes determined to learn how to shoot, hoping that by doing so she will win over her stepson, and, through him, her husband. Despite her efforts, she is pretty much ignored.

That all changes when Mitchum's character, Jim Fairways, shows up for a visit. He's a wandering hunter and an old friend of the family. In fact, he was a rival for the affections of Big Davey's first wife, and history soon repeats itself as Fairways takes a liking to Rachel. Fairways expresses his intention to get a wife of his own and heads off to town for this purpose. During a strangely sunny evening scene, the now jealous Big Davey begins to show more interest in Rachel, although he tells her that he is not ready to fall in love again.

Fairways soon returns, sans wife, and during an extended stay with the family he shows himself very attentive to Rachel. He soon offers to buy her from Davey so he can marry her himself. Although Rachel had seemed to enjoy the attention from Fairways (he kindly treated her like a person by talking with her, playing music with her, and teaching her how to shoot properly) she now turns on Fairways and calls him lazy.

While the two men fight over her, a disgusted Rachel runs off, and soon the men are on her trail. Even though the trip to town and back was made easily in a day before, everyone ends up camping out that night and the two men have a chance to express how they feel. Fairways professes his love while Big Davey is only able to appeal for Rachel to return to keep Little Davey and the dogs from missing her.

Soon all this nonsense is forgotten as a fire is spotted and the men head back to the cabin to protect it from an Indian attack. While Little Davey heads off to get the help of the townsfolk, Rachel bravely (and rather foolishly) returns to help fight off the Indians. Although unable to save the cabin from being set on fire, the three members of the love triangle live through the night unharmed. In the morning, Fairways the lonely wanderer heads off again, but not before delivering a creepy line about how he's a hunter putting the meat on other men's tables. Rachel remains with her husband and stepson, and Big Davey refers to her as Little Davey's Ma, providing hope for her being treated as a real wife now.

The movie was fairly enjoyable overall, with good acting and nice singing by Robert Mitchum. I didn't like some of the underlying ideas of men being driven to love by jealousy and women having to choose between romance and security. Fans of the actors would probably enjoy watching Rachel and the Stranger, but as the story is somewhat lacking in depth and emotional payoff, I would definitely categorize this film as a lesser classic as opposed to a must-see movie.
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