Joan, the Ideal Jane
Born 98 years ago today, Joan Fontaine (1917-2013) was most celebrated for the qualities of her three Academy Award®-nominated roles as withdrawn, almost otherworldly young women of unflashy but inherent beauty, awakening to their inner strengths and empowered by intense love for secretive, soulful men who alternately frighten and attract them. She played that razor-edge beautifully in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) (nomination #1), the same director’s Suspicion the following year, for which she won the Best Actress prize, and for Edmund Goulding’s The Constant Nymph (1943) (nomination #3). Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant and Charles Boyer played those men, respectively, and each brought out an ethereal quality in her that made her an audience favorite. Had the Oscar® fates of the era been kinder, we might have had another remarkable performance on that short list: the title role in director Robert Stevenson’s long-gestating but beautifully realized filmization of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1944). Playing against the suavely haunting Orson Welles as troubled country squire Edward Rochester, Fontaine hits every note of vulnerability, repressed passion and spiritual fidelity that the role requires. Although the movie’s artistic auteurship, dissected through the decades, reflects the influence of co-star Welles alongside the stewardship of Stevenson, her performance remains the beating heart of this particular adaptation of this oft-filmed story. Though she would take on later roles that revealed more of her range by drawing more on her wily femininity and calculating ambition in some standout film noirs, Jane Eyre endures as one of her most iconic creations. Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray features an engrossing array of commentary and featurette extras that explore the film in depth and celebrate the ideal meeting of Joan and Jane.