Jennifer (1953): 3.5/5
In this early ’50s mystery, the amazing, trail-blazing Ida Lupino plays Agnes Langley, a woman who is hired to take over a home that has been left empty by a missing woman named – what else? – Jennifer. Is Jennifer dead, or did she skip town? And if she is dead, who is responsible?
Ida completely carries the film and keeps it from falling off what I like to call “the corny cliff.” The corny cliff is not necessarily a bad thing! Cheesy thrillers can be just as, if not more, entertaining than their terror-filled counterparts. But in this case, Ida’s performance makes it quite thrilling.
The “woman meets man, they fall for each other, but is he really a criminal?” plot is somewhat typical, as are a few of the scenes that are meant to shock and scare. The overall effect is still very unsettling, however, especially the ending, which leaves much up for interpretation and imagination.
Another interesting aspect of this film is the set design. The haunted house is not your typical haunted house. It’s a beautiful, relatively clean property with no cobwebs or creepy dolls in sight. Often in horror films, the set design adds a whole lot of eerie that wouldn’t be present otherwise (i.e. The Woman in Black, which I recently reviewed: here). The eerie in Jennifer is wholly plot-driven as a result.
The choice of music is very interesting as well. It sounds a bit creepy, but a bit happy all at once. Much like the house, the viewer is not sure whether to want to run away from it or enjoy it. This can sometimes be a bit distracting, and does lend itself to laughs where there should be shrieks in a few instances.
Overall, this is a really great example of a ’50s thriller, albeit with some odd elements mixed in. It’s suspenseful, but not gory; the plot is full of mystery; a few gimmicks are used, and to today’s audiences it may seem more funny than horrifying.