What Ever Happened to Jennifer?

Jennifer’s gone missing. She was supposed to be looking after her uncle’s sprawling estate, which appears to have been abandoned since the Great Depression, but no one has seen her in weeks. Did she run off with an unknown lover? Did she swindle an undisclosed sum of money from her previous boss and head to Mexico on a cruise ship? Or was Jennifer murdered by a mysterious killer and buried somewhere on the property? These are the questions that will plague Agnes Langly (Ida Lupino) after she’s hired to replace the missing woman as the new caretaker in Joel Newton’s low-key thriller simply titled JENNIFER (1953).

Ida Lupino appeared in this unusual low-budget film in-between making The Hitch-Hiker (1953) and The Bigamist (1953). The movie barely warrants a mention in books and articles about the talented actress turned director but JENNIFER is worth a look for numerous reasons. First and foremost is Ida Lupino’s tightly wound and introspective performance as the middle-aged spinster Agnes Langly. Agnes has taken the job as caretaker of the Santa Barbara based estate because she presumably likes her solitude and enjoys spending her time in quiet introspection. When the property owner tells Agnes that the previous caretaker suddenly disappeared she expresses concern but accepts the job anyway. The movie follows Agnes as she moves into the big empty house and discovers Jennifer’s diary, which contains strange passages that hint that Jennifer was being watched and followed. Agnes’ interest in Jennifer soon leads to obsession as she tries to figure out what became of the missing woman. Complicating matters is a handsome stranger named Jim Hollis (Howard Duff) who owns the local grocery store and has taken an interest in Agnes. He begins making informal visits to the worn-down mansion regularly but Agnes is quick to avoid his advances. There’s an uncomfortable tension between the two actors who were married in real life. Over time it becomes apparent that underlying Agnes’ preference for seclusion is a streak of paranoia and sexual repression that slowly begins to bubble to the surface during the film’s short 73 minute running time.

So what happened to Jennifer? Agnes discovers many odd clues while she’s searching for answers. Besides the diary there’s Jennifer’s favorite record, a tense and bombastic composition with the telling title of “Vortex” that sounds as if it was swiped from the soundtrack of a Hitchcock film. And what about all the men that enter and leave the property every week? Besides the grocery store owner there is the nosey deliveryman and the reclusive groundskeeper. Did they have anything to do with Jennifer’s disappearance? Or maybe it’s Jennifer herself that is the real mystery. Is Jennifer’s ghost haunting the grounds and tormenting poor Agnes or is she merely a reflection of Agnes’s own inner fears? The film offers viewers an easy answer to Jennifer’s disappearance as well as Agnes’ obsession during its taut final moments but a shadowy surprise throws a cloud of confusion over the entire affair.

JENNIFER is often referred to as a film noir or mystery due to the casting of femme fatale Ida Lupino in the leading role but the film actually plays out like a slow-burning psychological thriller. It’s a kinder and gentler predecessor to unsettling horror films like Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). What drives the film at its center is the various interactions between Agnes and the grocery store owner Jim Hollis. Their relationship isn’t particularly erotic or suggestive but it is at the heart of this atypical movie. Jim exhibits his feelings for Agnes in a dry and somewhat confused manner and Agnes continually rebukes him. These two middle-aged adults aren’t looking for a good time as much as they’re eager to find real human companionship and understanding. I appreciated the awkward but tender moments they shared together, which are punctuated by Agnes’ obvious unease with her emotions and untapped desires. Agnes is a woman on the verge of falling apart at any given moment but we’re never exactly sure why. When she finally attempts to tell Jim about her past we don’t get the full story. She is guarding secrets that we’ll never know but Ida Lupino’s sensitive portrayal of Agnes was enough to make me care about the character and wonder about the outside forces that have driven her to become obsessed with the elusive Jennifer.

The film was directed by Joel Newton but if his name doesn’t ring any bells don’t be alarmed. Jennifer is the only movie credited to the mysterious Newton and information about the director is apparently nonexistent. It’s more than likely that Newton was a pseudonym for another director who worked on this unusual low-budget movie for Monogram Pictures. According to information I borrowed from TCM’s own site The Hollywood Reporter had Bernard Girard’s name listed as the director and co-writer of JENNIFER in published production charts but his name wasn’t in the film’s final credits. It’s important to note that the film’s credits are sparse and fail to acknowledge anyone for the screenplay except for pulp author Virginia Myers who wrote the original story that the film is based on. But it is possible that Bernard Girard may have directed JENNIFER as well as written the screenplay. I hesitate to give him complete credit for the film but Girard’s filmography includes some noteworthy suspenseful shockers and unconventional thrillers such as Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), The Mad Room (1969), What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969) and A Name for Evil (1973) as well as television credits on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone and Kraft Suspense Theatre. Some of the themes in JENNIFER as well as similar settings are even repeated in Bernard Girard’s later work, which makes it easy to assume that he had something to do with the film.

JENNIFER boasts some impressive black and white photography thanks to the acclaimed award winning cinematographer James Wong Howe who makes the most of the sprawling estate where Agnes resides. The crumbling mansion seems to reflect Agnes’ state of mind and as she walks through the winding corridors and across the wild overgrown grounds it’s impossible to ignore the way that the landscape mirrors her inner turmoil. The film also features a sinister score by Oscar winning composer Ernest Gold and the popular jazz standard “Angel Eyes” (written Matt Dennis and Earl Brent) even made its debut in JENNIFER before it was recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra. If the film’s plot and performances don’t captivate you it’s hard to ignore some of the impressive sites and sounds found in JENNIFER.

I don’t believe that JENNIFER has ever been officially released on video or DVD but it’s currently available on Netflix Instant Watch. I was impressed by the quality of the print, which is surprisingly crisp. Like many movie lovers I’ve come across some long forgotten classic films on Netflix recently and JENNIFER is one of my favorite discoveries. Ida Lupino’s excellent performance along with the film’s unexpected depths really caught me off guard and if you enjoy unusual thrillers you might find the film as fascinating as I did.

27 Responses What Ever Happened to Jennifer?
Posted By Kingrat : April 14, 2011 4:25 pm

Thank you for an excellent article about a film I’ve never even heard of, and with no less than Ida Lupino and James Wong Howe. Those stills are gorgeous, especially the one of Ida looking out into the hazy, sunny courtyard which looks like it’s part of another world.

Posted By Kingrat : April 14, 2011 4:25 pm

Thank you for an excellent article about a film I’ve never even heard of, and with no less than Ida Lupino and James Wong Howe. Those stills are gorgeous, especially the one of Ida looking out into the hazy, sunny courtyard which looks like it’s part of another world.

Posted By Grand Old Movies : April 14, 2011 8:19 pm

Enjoyed your evocative article on what seems to be a fascinating film – I haven’t seen it, but, from what you write, I hope it soon becomes more widely available; certainly a film w/Ida Lupino starring and James Wong Howe behind camera should be better known. The plot sounds very Shirley Jackson-like in its mystery and psychological tension.

Posted By Grand Old Movies : April 14, 2011 8:19 pm

Enjoyed your evocative article on what seems to be a fascinating film – I haven’t seen it, but, from what you write, I hope it soon becomes more widely available; certainly a film w/Ida Lupino starring and James Wong Howe behind camera should be better known. The plot sounds very Shirley Jackson-like in its mystery and psychological tension.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 14, 2011 9:07 pm

Thanks for the kind comments. It’s an interesting and overlooked film that deserves a wider audience. It does have a Jackson-like quality and I actually thought about THE HAUNTING when I was writing this but neglected to mention it so thanks for bringing it up, Grand Old Movies. I hope you both get the opportunity to see it and if we’re lucky maybe it will show up on TCM’s schedule sometime.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 14, 2011 9:07 pm

Thanks for the kind comments. It’s an interesting and overlooked film that deserves a wider audience. It does have a Jackson-like quality and I actually thought about THE HAUNTING when I was writing this but neglected to mention it so thanks for bringing it up, Grand Old Movies. I hope you both get the opportunity to see it and if we’re lucky maybe it will show up on TCM’s schedule sometime.

Posted By Jenni : April 14, 2011 11:15 pm

I haven’t heard of this movie either, and it does sound intriguing. I just recently viewed Ida’s turn as a blind lady in On Dangerous Ground, and she also played a lady in her 30s, living with some inner turmoil, although a large part of it was probably due to being blind. I do think Lupino was exceptionally good at playing characters with secrets and inner turmoils, with her large eyes, able to express many emotions at once. One side note, the music from On Dangerous Ground, was done by Franz Waxman, and I noticed in a long chase scene, when Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, and the posse are running after a suspected murderer, the music sounded exactly like the music from North by Northwest, when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are crawling on Mt. Rushmore. Do you know if musical soundtracks were ever borrowed? I know famous pieces of classical music have been re used in movies, but was wondering if the same was done with more contemporary music?

Posted By Jenni : April 14, 2011 11:15 pm

I haven’t heard of this movie either, and it does sound intriguing. I just recently viewed Ida’s turn as a blind lady in On Dangerous Ground, and she also played a lady in her 30s, living with some inner turmoil, although a large part of it was probably due to being blind. I do think Lupino was exceptionally good at playing characters with secrets and inner turmoils, with her large eyes, able to express many emotions at once. One side note, the music from On Dangerous Ground, was done by Franz Waxman, and I noticed in a long chase scene, when Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, and the posse are running after a suspected murderer, the music sounded exactly like the music from North by Northwest, when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are crawling on Mt. Rushmore. Do you know if musical soundtracks were ever borrowed? I know famous pieces of classical music have been re used in movies, but was wondering if the same was done with more contemporary music?

Posted By Al Lowe : April 15, 2011 4:16 am

In my Sunday School class recently we studied an amazing Psalm, 137.

The last line is directed towards the Babylonias who recently conquered the Israelites: “Happy are the ones who take and dash your little ones against the rocks.”

It is okay if your jaw drops when you read that.

This is the Bible, after all, and you don’t expect to find words that stunning and shocking. I led the group that day and class discussion focused on whether that line should even be in the Bible and in what context was the line meant. Apparently, the line is known by scholars as the most shocking Biblical passage but it is okay when you understand what the intentions of the author really were.

Similarly, I was amazed to hear about this Ida Luino/James Wong Howe movie I had never heard of. I have two reference books with Lupino’s complete credits. They blow off JENNIFER in a graf during discussion of her career.

Of course, in retrospect, the reaction of film buffs is: Wait a minute. Lupino and Howe in a very obscure thriller. What is going on here?

I will ask you a favor Kimberly. Some of us, particularly me, do not have really great computers. I can’t access the film. So, why don’t you reveal the resolution of the plot? First, warn everyone else, so they don’t read it if they don’t want to. But where was this movie going? Maybe if I know what the plot was, I would understand why it was even made.

And, don’t worry. You are not really supposed to dash your enemy’s youngsters against the rocks.

Posted By Al Lowe : April 15, 2011 4:16 am

In my Sunday School class recently we studied an amazing Psalm, 137.

The last line is directed towards the Babylonias who recently conquered the Israelites: “Happy are the ones who take and dash your little ones against the rocks.”

It is okay if your jaw drops when you read that.

This is the Bible, after all, and you don’t expect to find words that stunning and shocking. I led the group that day and class discussion focused on whether that line should even be in the Bible and in what context was the line meant. Apparently, the line is known by scholars as the most shocking Biblical passage but it is okay when you understand what the intentions of the author really were.

Similarly, I was amazed to hear about this Ida Luino/James Wong Howe movie I had never heard of. I have two reference books with Lupino’s complete credits. They blow off JENNIFER in a graf during discussion of her career.

Of course, in retrospect, the reaction of film buffs is: Wait a minute. Lupino and Howe in a very obscure thriller. What is going on here?

I will ask you a favor Kimberly. Some of us, particularly me, do not have really great computers. I can’t access the film. So, why don’t you reveal the resolution of the plot? First, warn everyone else, so they don’t read it if they don’t want to. But where was this movie going? Maybe if I know what the plot was, I would understand why it was even made.

And, don’t worry. You are not really supposed to dash your enemy’s youngsters against the rocks.

Posted By suzidoll : April 15, 2011 11:08 am

This sounds terrific. I, too, have never heard of this film, but James Wong Howe as the cinematographer on a Monogram film? Wow! I wonder if Lupino may have had a hand in the direction of the film? Just speculating. Thanks for the stunning film stills, which really make me want to see this film.

Posted By suzidoll : April 15, 2011 11:08 am

This sounds terrific. I, too, have never heard of this film, but James Wong Howe as the cinematographer on a Monogram film? Wow! I wonder if Lupino may have had a hand in the direction of the film? Just speculating. Thanks for the stunning film stills, which really make me want to see this film.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : April 16, 2011 4:10 am

I was curious about seeing both the Monogram name and the Allied Artist logo at the same time, especially as Monogram officially reorganized and renamed itself Allied Artists in 1947. According to sources, some films still carried the Monogram label until it was totally phased out in 1953.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : April 16, 2011 4:10 am

I was curious about seeing both the Monogram name and the Allied Artist logo at the same time, especially as Monogram officially reorganized and renamed itself Allied Artists in 1947. According to sources, some films still carried the Monogram label until it was totally phased out in 1953.

Posted By Rick Mitchell : April 17, 2011 4:00 pm

Monogram do not reorganize itself in 1947 but set up Allied Artists as a subsidiary to make “higher budgeted” films. They continue to make their usual Monogram films until officially changing the corporate name in 1953, but some of the films already made carry a copyright to Monogram, like THE MAZE.

Posted By Rick Mitchell : April 17, 2011 4:00 pm

Monogram do not reorganize itself in 1947 but set up Allied Artists as a subsidiary to make “higher budgeted” films. They continue to make their usual Monogram films until officially changing the corporate name in 1953, but some of the films already made carry a copyright to Monogram, like THE MAZE.

Posted By LRobHubbard : April 17, 2011 4:16 pm

@Jenni,

The reason the music from ON DANGEROUS GROUND sounds very much like the music from NORTH BY NORTHWEST is because they’re both by the same composer, Bernard Herrmann.

NOT Franz Waxman, a good composer in his own right, but who did not do ON DANGEROUS GROUND.

Posted By LRobHubbard : April 17, 2011 4:16 pm

@Jenni,

The reason the music from ON DANGEROUS GROUND sounds very much like the music from NORTH BY NORTHWEST is because they’re both by the same composer, Bernard Herrmann.

NOT Franz Waxman, a good composer in his own right, but who did not do ON DANGEROUS GROUND.

Posted By insermini : April 20, 2011 6:01 am

wanna see it, sounds great!

Posted By insermini : April 20, 2011 6:01 am

wanna see it, sounds great!

Posted By Jenni : April 21, 2011 9:56 am

Thanks LRobHubbard for the info. I double-checked and you are quite correct, it was Bernard Herrmann, which makes sense to me that he would re-use music he had previously written. When I watched ODG, I read the credits and thought it said Franz Waxman. My mid-life forgetfulness must now be affecting my eyesight! Thanks again for the info.

Posted By Jenni : April 21, 2011 9:56 am

Thanks LRobHubbard for the info. I double-checked and you are quite correct, it was Bernard Herrmann, which makes sense to me that he would re-use music he had previously written. When I watched ODG, I read the credits and thought it said Franz Waxman. My mid-life forgetfulness must now be affecting my eyesight! Thanks again for the info.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 21, 2011 9:16 pm

Thanks for all the comments! For some reason there’s been a long delay lately in-between when people post comments and when they actually show up on the blog so I’ve lost track of lots of them.

Jenni – On Dangerous Ground is a great film and it would make for an interesting double feature with JENNIFER. I’m glad LRobHubbard could help you with the music question.

Al Lowe – You took the long way ’round to ask me a question but I finally figured out what you wanted to know. I kind of pride myself on not giving away all the major plot points in a film when I write about a movie. It often takes some effort on my part so I’d like to stick to my guns and not give too much away, but I will say this; it’s a great film and the surprise ending is what makes it so interesting. If I had known all about the movie before I saw it, the information would have greatly diminished the film’s impact on me. If you hunt around online and do a Google search I’m sure you’ll find that someone has already let the cat out of the bag, as they say.

Suzi – I’m really glad that Netflix is making some of these hard-to-see classic movies available and I hope you get the chance to see it sometime.

Peter & Rick – Thanks for sorting that out and clearing up any lingering questions. I’ve read that JENNIFER may have been the very last film with the Monogram copyright on it. Don’t know if it’s true but thought I’d share that bit of information.

insermini – Hope you enjoy it!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 21, 2011 9:16 pm

Thanks for all the comments! For some reason there’s been a long delay lately in-between when people post comments and when they actually show up on the blog so I’ve lost track of lots of them.

Jenni – On Dangerous Ground is a great film and it would make for an interesting double feature with JENNIFER. I’m glad LRobHubbard could help you with the music question.

Al Lowe – You took the long way ’round to ask me a question but I finally figured out what you wanted to know. I kind of pride myself on not giving away all the major plot points in a film when I write about a movie. It often takes some effort on my part so I’d like to stick to my guns and not give too much away, but I will say this; it’s a great film and the surprise ending is what makes it so interesting. If I had known all about the movie before I saw it, the information would have greatly diminished the film’s impact on me. If you hunt around online and do a Google search I’m sure you’ll find that someone has already let the cat out of the bag, as they say.

Suzi – I’m really glad that Netflix is making some of these hard-to-see classic movies available and I hope you get the chance to see it sometime.

Peter & Rick – Thanks for sorting that out and clearing up any lingering questions. I’ve read that JENNIFER may have been the very last film with the Monogram copyright on it. Don’t know if it’s true but thought I’d share that bit of information.

insermini – Hope you enjoy it!

Posted By Haydee Phillips : April 2, 2012 1:09 pm

I just saw the movie JENNIFER in Neflix last night and it is a great movie, Ida Lupino was a wonderful actress, the only thing is that shadow of the beginning and end of the movie, maybe it was Jennifer. But have a good ending. Thank you for the article about the movie. I enjoyed very much.

Posted By Haydee Phillips : April 2, 2012 1:09 pm

I just saw the movie JENNIFER in Neflix last night and it is a great movie, Ida Lupino was a wonderful actress, the only thing is that shadow of the beginning and end of the movie, maybe it was Jennifer. But have a good ending. Thank you for the article about the movie. I enjoyed very much.

Posted By Thom Mass : April 3, 2015 8:32 pm

This is truly a great movie in that it achieves the effect of so many levels but most of all What is Really happening? The film in some ways leaves you hanging but a probable ending to the story relates to all the facts adding up. The major clue is the shadow figure that appears in the beginning and at the end. With it being placed near the title appearance it seems to suggest the shadow is Jennifer but the entire story seems to go in another direction suggesting that Jennifer is either dead, still missing, or is unapproachable somehow. There are clues placed in that seem relevant and yet do not seem relevant. The 3 mirrors, the heavy loud music, the diary that is left. In many ways the film parts do not make sense. And we keep trying to fit in the shadow somehow into the story line. But it doesn’t seem to fit.

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