John H. Auer was a producer and director at Republic Pictures for many years, churning out quick low budget films that lived on the success of bigger, more famous pictures. I, Jane Doe (1948) was one of Auer’s films made during that period and it is begging to be rediscovered. One of the many great things that Kino-Lorber does is to bring little known titles back into public view. I, Jane Doe, with its story of female solidarity and retribution, feels more relevant today than it possibly could have when it was first released. B-Movies of the immediate post-war period are particularly interesting due to the fact that there wasn’t as much executive oversight. I, Jane Doe directly addresses the fundamentally predatory nature of patriarchal society and that system’s unwillingness to accept culpability.
The plot of I, Jane Doe revolves around the murder of Stephen Curtis (John Carroll) by his french wife Anette (Vera Ralston) when she finds out that he was already married to Eve Meredith (Ruth Hussey) before WWII broke out. The bulk of the narrative is told in flashbacks by witnesses during the trial. First Anette is tried as Jane Doe then later as Anette Curtis with Eve Meredith as her lawyer. The case of the defense is a litany of wrong doing perpetrated by Stephen Curtis against all of the women in his life.
I, Jane Doe straddles two aesthetics throughout: the weepie and film noir. Structurally I, Jane Doe fits in with the models provided by The Killers (1946), Out Of The Past (1947) and Brute Force (1947) even though tonally Auer is channeling John M. Stahl. I, Jane Doe is too melodramatic to be a traditional film noir as well as too brightly lit. These styles are never really at odds though. Visually the film is very consistent in framing every shot as if it were a play. There are some stylistic flourishes with the camera throughout but nothing so bold as to undermine the look of the rest of the film.
The fact that I, Jane Doe expresses some very serious social and political concerns connects the film loosely with the films of Ida Lupino. Fans of Lupino’s work will appreciate I, Jane Doe, and not just because of its narrative content. Like Lupino’s best films, Auer’s film bends genres utilizing different aspects to best articulate or demonstrate a moral dilemma.