Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: I, Jane Doe (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

I, JANE DOE (1948) is an engrossing Republic Pictures melodrama just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

This beautiful Blu-ray is described by Kino Lorber as a "brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative and finegrain by Paramount Pictures Archives." Kudos to both Kino Lorber and Paramount for rescuing this little-known yet very interesting film.

As the film opens, Stephen Curtis (John Carroll) has just been shot to death by a woman known only as "Jane Doe" (Vera Ralston). Jane Doe refuses to testify on her own behalf and is sentenced to death, but the execution is delayed when she is unexpectedly found to be pregnant.

After the baby is born, Curtis's widow Eve (Ruth Hussey), an attorney, visits Jane Doe in the hospital. Eve convinces Jane, whose true name is Annette, to take the stand in a retrial for her baby's sake, and Eve represents her.

In a series of flashbacks Annette's shocking story is told, including her wartime marriage to Stephen after his plane was shot down over Europe -- a marriage which took place despite the fact he was already married to Eve. Stephen fled back to the U.S. as soon as the war ended, abandoning Annette, and when his bride followed him to the U.S., her reward was to have her bigamist husband try to deport her.

I, JANE DOE is a most interesting courtroom drama in which two women who should ostensibly be enemies unite as one, recognizing in retrospect that the man they each loved was an utter sleaze. Hussey and Ralston each handle their roles with quiet dignity. Hussey is always good, and this is one of the better, more natural performances I've seen from Ralston.

I particularly liked the matter-of-fact way the film treats Hussey and Benay Venuta as professional attorneys, despite the unusual situation in which Hussey's Eve finds herself. Without any fuss Eve is accorded respect as an equal by her state's attorney friend (John Howard) and everyone else, without the condescension or "battle of the sexes" that's so often part of a '40s "working woman" storyline (i.e., the next year's ADAM'S RIB). Hussey's onscreen persona could never be less than highly intelligent, and that shines through in this performance.

Carroll and Hussey had worked together on SUSAN AND GOD (1940), PIERRE OF THE PLAINS (1942), and BEDSIDE MANNER (1945); it's nice to see them on screen together again, although his character is a total reprobate. Carroll's shift-eyed, narcissistic performance is highly convincing.

They're backed by an excellent cast of pros including Gene Lockhart as a prosecutor, James Bell as the judge, John Litel as a public defender, and Adele Mara, notable in a single scene as Stephen's pre-war paramour who gives Eve her first hint all is not well with her marriage.

Also of note is the film's set design, from a rather modern-looking courtroom -- which seems unique compared to other movie courtrooms of the era -- to Stephen and Eve's apartment with a striking hooded brick fireplace.

I, JANE DOE was directed by John H. Auer and filmed by Reggie Lanning. It runs 85 minutes.

The lone extra on this release is a five-film trailer gallery for other films available from Kino Lorber. This movie is such an interesting discovery that I wish it had been accompanied by a featurette or commentary, but I'm delighted that it's now available for home viewing in a gorgeous print.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Vienna said...

Can’t wait to see this one!

11:43 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

This sounds very interesting.

I think of Vera as a woman with a character actor's soul and a husband who only saw stars.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I found this really interesting and unusual. I'd love to know what each of you think about it.

That's a great comment, Caftan Woman, and sounds rather true. I've been reevaluating my opinion of Ralston, having found her pretty good in some films seen in the last couple years.

Best wishes,

4:38 PM  

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